Liberty Watch – July 2011

Round-up of civil liberty news for July 2011.


56-year-old adoption laws queried

An adoption advocacy group has filed a claim with The Human Rights Review Tribunal stating that New Zealand's adoption law is out of date and discriminatory.

Same-sex and de-facto couples weren't able to adopt, birth mothers weren't fully informed of their rights and people up to the age of 20 could be adopted without their consent under the current law, the group claimed.

Adoption Action said the adoption law, which had not been changed in 56 years, was inconsistent with the anti-discrimination provisions of The Human Rights Act 1993 and The New Zealand Bill of Rights Act in 15 different respects.  28/7/11



Justice system overhaul closer

Eroding the legal principle of the right to silence, narrowing the scope of offences that can go before a jury, and ending celebrity name suppression are all now one-step closer to becoming law.

The recommendations are included in a report from the Justice and Electoral select committee on the controversial Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill.

Aspects of the Bill have been strongly opposed by all levels of the judiciary – including the Chief Justice Sian Elias and Chief District Court Judge Russell Johnson.

NZ Herald 14/7/11


Inmate wins payout for hurt feelings

A PRISONER who took offence when he found a government department had incorrectly listed him as having a domestic violence conviction has won a compensation payout for breach of privacy and hurt feelings.

The man, who has convictions for attacking a police officer, unlawful possession of firearms, aggravated robbery, theft, burglary and trying to escape from custody, complained to the Privacy Commissioner and then to the Human Rights Review Tribunal about a Ministry of Social Development's (MSD) file note,

After hearing evidence the tribunal ruled the inmate's privacy had been breached, he had suffered emotional harm and that he was entitled to NZ$3,500 in compensation.

New Zealand herald 17/7/11



Inmate's wife can't be guard

A woman has been given the go-ahead to sue the corrections department for refusing to employ her as a guard in the prison in which her husband was remanded. It is understood the foundation of the case against the department is that Lydia Butcher should not be discriminated against because of her husband's criminal behaviour.

The employment application form used by the department specifically urges applicants to declare connections to anyone involved in criminal activity.  The form also stated a failure to declare potential conflicts could result in being turned down for a job.

New Zealand Herald 3/7/11


Bill to reveal gender pay gap

Male and female colleagues would know each other's salaries under a proposed pay equality bill that would remove an employer's ability to keep them secret.  Equal Employment Opportunities Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor said that the number of women who did not know if they were receiving equal pay was disturbing.

She has drafted a bill that would mean a woman doing the same work as a man would be entitled to know what he was paid.

New Zealand Herald 2/7/11



Freedom camping law could impact on hikers and mountaineers

A law that would restrict freedom camping could threaten hikers and mountaineers who sleep on roadsides before an early morning start parliament has been told.

The Local Government sub-committee heard submissions on the Freedom Camping Bill, which would empower local authorities to declare certain areas off-limits to freedom camping and allow them to issue $200 fines.

Local authorities or the Department of Conservation could also take offenders to court for a maximum fine of $10,000.

The bill's explanatory note says that the bill "does not target back country campers, or motorists who need to pull over to the side of the road to rest", but these activities are all captured by the bill, which defines Freedom Camping as camping within 1km of a road or vehicle accessible area in a tent, caravan, campervan or other vehicle or temporary structure

New Zealand Herald 4/7/11



Whitcoulls will 'evaluate' Kahui book

Whitcoulls, New Zealand biggest book retailer, says it will make a decision on whether to stock an upcoming book about the deaths of the Kahui twins after it is finished and the company has a chance to read it.

Two major book retailers, Paper Plus and the Warehouse, have already announced they will not stock the book.

The book, Breaking Silence: The Kahui Case, was written by journalist Ian Wishart and the twins' mother Macsyna King.

 New Zealand Herald 1/7/11



Councils asked for backing on gang-patch ban

Councils are being formally asked if they would support a ban on gang patches at hospitals, schools and local government-controlled buildings.

Under a draft private member's bill, gang insignia would be forbidden in all public service departments and other Crown property, with the exception of Housing New Zealand homes and Department of Conservation land.

But the bill's author, Rotorua MP Todd McClay, is writing to all mayors for their thoughts on extending the ban to all public buildings.

New Zealand Herald 14/7/11



Call to introduce alcohol screening

An alcohol advisory group wants everyone who visits their GP to be screened for harmful alcohol use, following a report by Royal College Psychiatrists in Britain that is calling for everyone over the age of 65 to be screened for abuse of drugs including alcohol.  Research from the College has stated that older people are less able to process alcohol, recommending that the government lower the recommended drinking limit for older people to just 1.5 units per day.

The group’s early intervention manager, Sue Paton, wants that in New Zealand as well, but not just for older people.

"We would take that further, we would say that all of the population should be screened for alcohol abuse," says Ms Paton.

New Zealand Herald 3/7/11


Police begin clampdown on legal highs

Nelson's alcohol outlets are being asked to pull all party pills and cannabinoids from their shelves or risk having their licences suspended.

Police Alcohol Harm Reduction Sergeant Mike Fitzsimons said since the synthetic cannabis product Kronic Pineapple Express had been banned, he'd told licensed premises that they shouldn't be selling any similar substances or party pills

It's not illegal for licensed premises to sell such substances but the Liquor Licensing Authority has discretion to decide whether someone is "fit and proper" to hold a liquor licence. Police would argue they weren't if they sold these products, Mr Fitzsimons said.

Nelson Mail 8/7/11



Police checking residents went too far – lawyer

A civil liberties lawyer says police went too far over the weekend when checking residents in an Auckland street where a Hells Angels gathering was being held. Brentwood Avenue residents say they were photographed and asked for their address, name, date of birth and job.

Mr Bott says police have the power to ask your name and address but to go beyond that and ask about your occupation and the purpose of your visit is disgusting

New Zealand Herald 4/7/11


Police ask protesters their World Cup plans

Police are contacting known protesters to ask if they are planning any protest action during the month-long Rugby World Cup.

Veteran protesters Sue Bradford and John Minto have both had visits from police officers.

Police have confirmed they are talking to "a number of people".

Dominion Post 5/7/11


Taser Use

A 14-year-old boy and a 70-year-old man are among the New Zealanders stunned by police Tasers since their introduction last year.

Figures show police have "presented" Tasers to offenders 797 times since March 2010 and, of these, they were fired 102 times. However, the police's Tactical Options Research database shows the weapons were ineffective on 36 of those 102 occasions,

More worryingly, the stun guns have been fired more times by accident than in the line of duty, with concerns over officers' ineptitude with the weapons borne out by the statistic that Tasers have been "unintentionally discharged" 108 times.

Sunday Star Times 17/7/11



Wainuiomata High to install toilet cameras

Wainuiomata High School will install cameras in toilets, despite a Privacy Commission warning it could breach pupils' privacy.

The cameras would not be in cubicles but in the main washroom, principal Martin Isberg said. They were to stop vandalism, deter smoking and allow the reintroduction of soap, absent for several years because it was used to plug sinks and flood them.

However, a Privacy Commissioner's Office spokeswoman said schools needed to be very careful with the placement of cameras, and recommended positioning them outside the toilet block entrance.

"Our advice is that there would need to be a fairly extraordinary set of circumstances to justify putting up cameras looking into toilet cubicles or in areas where people might be changing clothes."

Schools needed to have signs up that camera were in use.

Dominion Post 27/7/11


Kaikoura 'loo-cams' a big success

The Kaikoura District Council has made huge savings since it installed surveillance cameras in the town's public toilets, asset manager Gallo Saidy says.

The cameras were installed in the West End toilets in Kaikoura in 2007 and have been the subject of much debate since, with one journalist even taking the matter to Parliament over privacy concerns. But the Kaikoura council always maintained there is no breach of privacy, because the cameras do not show people in the cubicles.

Marlborough Express 29/7/11


Critics slam device to spy on teenagers

A tracking device that allows parents to monitor their teens' driving habits has been slammed as "a step too far".

The Trackstick Mini GPS keep track of a vehicle's speed and location history when plugged in, including the date and time.

When the device is plugged into a computer it shows where a vehicle has been via a red line across Google Earth satellite photos.

Legally you're not allowed to use a tracking device on anyone unless they know about it or it's in your vehicle, 21/7/11



Women thrown off bus for wearing veil

The Consulate-General of Saudi Arabia has written to the New Zealand Government to complain after a Saudi Arabian student was told she couldn’t board an Auckland bus because of her Muslim veil.

Two days earlier another driver from the same company, NZ Bus, told another woman to remove her veil.

However, both bus drivers suffer from “maskophobia” and weren’t discriminating on religious or cultural grounds, NZ Bus general manager Jon Calder said, and neither has been dismissed.

Mr Calder said both drivers had been sent on counselling programmes, and NZ Bus has no policy on clothing. Both men have received final warnings and will be monitored.

A Human Rights Commission spokesman said the incidents appeared to amount to discrimination on religious grounds

3 News 5/7/11



SIS given stronger powers

The Security Intelligence Service (SIS) has been given stronger surveillance powers under legislation passed by Parliament.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said the changes would ensure the SIS was equipped to deal with the now widespread use of computers, mobile phones and internet technologies, and take advantage of new surveillance technologies.

"Changes must be made to enable the SIS to regain its full functionality before New Zealand hosts an important event like the Rugby World Cup," he said.

The Green Party MP Keith Locke said it was unnecessary and inappropriate. "We shouldn't be giving more surveillance powers to such an unaccountable government agency with a history of using these powers to spy on critics of the Government," he said.

New Zealand Herald 5/7/11



Smokers under attack

One of New Zealand's major employers is looking at refusing to hire smokers, and Auckland Council bosses will consider banning smoking in central-city streets and at bus stops.

The Auckland District Health Board, which employs more than 10,000 people, is developing the controversial but lawful hiring plan. Nursing representatives say it's unfair.

The Human Rights Commission said the DHB would be within its rights not to hire smokers.

"Although this may not be considered fair or reasonable, it is not unlawful," a spokesman said.

This is because smoking is not specified in legislation as a banned reason for discrimination.

The Auckland District Health Board is also considering topermit security guards to take photos of staff who smoke in the grounds and refuse to identify themselves, and building a wall with sharp stones on top to discourage people from smoking near the entrance to Auckland City Hospital.

New Zealand Herald 14/7/11


The Waikato District Health Board is seeking the support of Hamilton City Council in imposing a ban on smoking on Selwyn St and Pembroke St.  Hospital staff, patients, and visitors, leaving the hospital grounds for a smoke, frequent the roads.

The DHB has suggested that the council pass a bylaw outlawing smoking on the two streets, which could be enforced by instant fines, as is the practice in Queensland, Australia where security guards can issue infringement notices.

New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties spokesperson Batch Hales said current measures to stop smoking were working and introducing things like street bans would be counter-productive.

Waikato Times 16/7/11