Liberty Watch – June 2011

Round-up of civil liberty news for June 2011.


Jury exemption at 65 'could be ageism'

The Human Rights Commission says allowing people older than 65 to permanently opt out of jury service could be age discrimination.

A bill before Parliament would allow 65-year-olds to apply to exclude themselves from jury selection permanently, based solely on their age.

Human Rights Commissioner Dr Judy McGregor says the legislation supports a view that elderly people are not up to contributing to the wider community.



Breathalysers at School Balls

GISBORNE high schools, like other schools across New Zealand, are cracking down on alcohol in the 2011 ball season and have upped their security measures by having alcohol breathalysers at the ready and increasing staff patrol at venues.

Principals of Gisborne Girls’ High, Lytton High and Campion College have confirmed they will have alcohol breathalysers on hand to test anyone they suspect has been drinking before the ball.

Gisborne herald 24/6/11


Drug dogs to check St Kent's ball guests

A high school is employing sniffer dogs to check students for drugs

Along with the sniffer dogs, St Kentigern College has also hired security guards to search students at the door and they will be forced to blow into a breathalyser if suspected of drinking.


End right to silence, Kahui inquest told

The country's leading authority on child protection has questioned the right to silence for defendants in some child-abuse cases.

Starship hospital's director of child protection, Dr Patrick Kelly, told the inquest into the death of the Kahui twins yesterday that he was disappointed new legislation from the Government did not include some limitations on the right to silence.

Dr Kelly said the Law Commission in Britain had recommended that the right to silence be removed in child-abuse cases where the accused is a caregiver of the child.

NZ Herald 29/6/11


Boys can’t date each other – college

A Wellington boys' college has banned a student from bringing his male date to this weekend's school ball.

A St. Patrick's College student wanted to bring his male friend, but said rector Father Paul Martin told him that he had to bring a girl.

The Human Rights Commission said that they receive a few complaints about pupils not being allowed to bring same-sex partners to school balls each year, but said the St Patrick's case had not been brought to its notice.

NZ Herald 15/6/11



Juries legislation raises concerns

The New Zealand Law Society have questioned a proposed law change to disqualify from jury service people who have served sentences of home detention within the preceding five years.

Because people on home detention had all received sentences of imprisonment, they were excluded from jury service for five years. However, since home detention was created as a stand-alone sentencing option, Parliament has failed to address whether home detention was akin to prison (which involves a five-year disqualification from jury service), or to other community sentences (which do not). 15/6/11


Truth banned from Auckland Prison

Auckland prisoners have been told they are no longer entitled to read New Zealand's oldest weekly newspaper. NZ Truth, a decision that will now go to the high court.

Corrections bosses notified the Auckland-based publishers of Truth Weekender that their tabloid paper was banned from the maximum security Auckland Prison east division.

The paper has an extensive advertising section for prostitutes with photographs of near-naked females, but this was not what sparked the decision, rather the paper's journalism was what upset authorities.

Corrections' media advisor, Rebecca Powell, defended the ban, saying prisoners' rights to access to news were not affected.

''Prisoners continue to have access to local and world news via all other newspapers, radio stations and free-to-air television.'' 29/6/11



Air NZ told to reinstate sacked man

Air New Zealand has been ordered for the third time to reinstate a flight attendant who was sacked for sitting down during turbulence.

The case of a man who was a flight attendant for 14 years and a former union representative, has gone through the Employment Relations Authority, the Employment Court and finally the Court of Appeal, where a judge has again ruled in his favour.

He was dismissed three years ago for "serious misconduct" after he sat down on a flight to Vancouver during moderate turbulence.

The Employment Court later ruled that Air New Zealand had punished him for views expressed in his union role, and said his dismissal was unfair.

New Zealand Herald 30/6/11


Employers' boss slammed for 'sexist' comments

The Council of Trade Unions says the head of the Employers and Manufacturers Association (EMA) should resign, after he suggested one reason women are paid less than men is because they take "sick days" once a month.

Responding to a Green Party bill seeking to require employers to record the gender of their employees along with pay levels, EMA chief executive Alasdair Thompson today admitted there was a gender pay gap – 12 percent according to figures – but said women took the most sick days.

"Why? Because once a month they have sick problems. Not all women, but some do, they have children they have to take time off to go home and take leave," he told NewstalkZB, therefore their productivity was lower.

"I don't like saying these things because it sounds like I'm sexist, but it's a fact of life."

Otago Daily Times 23/6/11


Pilots fight plans to check files for Convictions

The Director of Civil Aviation wants to resume secretly searching for convictions commercial pilots may have.

If a High Court ruling goes in its favour, the Civil Aviation Authority (CAA) intends to seek any incriminating information from the Ministry of Justice several times a year.

At a judicial review hearing in the High Court at Wellington it emerged that the CAA planned to regularly forward the names of 100 pilots, selected randomly and without their knowledge, for scrutiny.

Otago daily Times 20/6/11


Spying on workers made legal

A law change has made it legal to install secret cameras to spy on workers, and companies are employing private detectives to do so.

Recently Wellington International Airport has fallen foul of the Employment Relations Authority for using a private investigator to install cameras to spy on the activities of a manager before the law was changed.

The airport recordings caught the duty manager engaged in "sexual activity" with a woman in an emergency management room and he was dismissed for serious misconduct.

The cameras were installed by private investigator Cedric Hardiman, who also managed the airport's taxi and parking facilities.

At the time, the Private Investigators and Security Guards Act prohibited investigators from making recordings without the consent of the person recorded.  However, a law change that came into effect on April 1 has removed that part of the law and it is now legal for private investigators to make recordings.

Sunday Star Times 26/6/11



Law aims to ban patches from government property

THE Government is backing a nationwide ban on gang patches at all buildings and property its departments own or rent.

National MP Todd McClay, who is behind the private members' bill, said his legislation had been in written in a way where it could not be the subject of legal challenges, clearly stating which government-run buildings and property, including car parks, it would apply to.

That includes all the country's state-funded schools, hospitals, airports and government departments such as Winz, ACC, Housing New Zealand, Sport and Recreation NZ, the IRD and the Ministry of Maori Development. It would not apply to the 66,000 state houses owned or managed by Housing New Zealand. 5/6/11



Housing New Zealand's eviction move criticized

Housing New Zealand unfairly targeted three Lower Hutt women with eviction to get at their partners, a Human Rights Tribunal has been told.  The three women, who have partners with gang links, are being threatened with eviction from Farmer Crescent in Pomare.

Dominion Post 20/6/11


Government makes it tougher to get on waiting list for a state house

The Housing Minister, Phil Heatley has confirmed tighter rules for people seeking a place on waiting lists for state houses. Under the changes, which come into force on 1 July, only the most urgent priority A and B cases will be eligible for state house waiting lists. Those rated a C or D will not qualify, although those already on the list will be allowed to stay there. Also from 1 July, all new tenancies will be reviewable once every three years, with tenants moved out of state housing if their circumstances improve significantly. Mr Heatley says elderly tenants and those with disabilities will undergo an office review only and are unlikely to be moved on. In another change, tenants issued with 90-day notices for destructive or abusive behaviour will face a year-long ban from re-applying for a state house tenancy. 29/6/11



Index Burnishes New Zealand’s Reputation As Least Corrupt

New Zealand was ranked the least-corrupt nation of 66 examined by the World Justice Project. The results are based on about 1,000 assessments from members of the general public in each country, as well as contributions from local legal experts.

New Zealand topped the “absence of corruption” list and placed in the top five in the world in seven of the eight categories of the Index.



Un criticizes New Zealand

The UN has recently come out against Britain, France, and New Zealand’s three strike laws that have been put in place to stop file sharing of copyrighted files. In all three of these countries if you are caught illegally sharing files on three occasions, you can be barred from internet access. The UN deemed this a human right abuse stating that cutting someone off from having internet access for a copyright infringement is “disproportionate and thus a violation of article 19, paragraph 3, of the International Covenant on Civil and Political Right.”

While several submissions on the law in New Zealand argued internet access was now a right, Commerce Minister Simon Power yesterday said he hadn't given that a great deal of thought.  "But the legislation that we passed … was thoroughly consulted over a two-year period. I'm confident that it's been through just about every test and every forum it could have been to get to where it is today."

The Government had no intention of altering it, he added.

New Zealand Herald 8/6/11


New Zealand backs UN on internet access

New Zealand has backed a statement made at the United Nations that the termination of an internet account is "generally not a proportionate sanction", despite introducing legislation that will eventually allow such a punishment.

Delivered by Sweden on behalf of New Zealand and 40 other countries at the United Nations' Human Rights Council in Geneva, the statement endorsed a UN report that called the termination of internet access for alleged copyright infringement a violation of human rights.



Kronic use to be curtailed

A planned crackdown on "cannabinoid" substances will severely curtail the use of controversial synthetic cannabis product Kronic, Associate Health Minister Peter Dunne has said.

Mr Dunne said an amendment to the Misuse of Drugs Act 2005 targeting "Kronic", along with other widely available products such as "Spice" Aroma" and "Dream", was set to be passed by parliament within weeks.

It would restrict where the products could be advertised and sold, along with strengthening laws making them illegal to under-18s.

NZ Herald 17/6/11



No conviction for officer who punched prisoner

A Judge in New Plymouth District Court discharged a police officer without conviction for assault. 

The officer punched a prisoner, who was in a waist restraint, as two prison officers were forcing him into a police van.

The officer's counsel, Patrick Mooney, argued that a conviction for the police officer would have effects out of all proportion to the lower-grade assault.  He also asked for continued name suppression arguing that it could adversely affect the officer when dealing with the public and criminals in future.

Judge Courtney agreed with Mr. Mooney, discharging the officer without conviction and ordering permanent name suppression.

NZ Herald 16/6/11



An international trade agreement that targets intellectual property (IP) rights infringers has been finalized. ACTA was negotiated by, amongst others, Australia, Canada, the US, Japan, Korea, Morocco, New Zealand, Mexico, Singapore and, on behalf of EU countries, the European Commission.

The Anti-Counterfeiting Trade Agreement (ACTA) is a voluntary international treaty that seeks to provide standardised international enforcement of intellectual property rights. ACTA was negotiated in secret by the Governments of a collection of countries over the past three years.

The treaty has been controversial because of this secrecy surrounding its negotiation. The ACTA encourages customs officers to help identify intellectual property right violators and share the details with other countries.

"ACTA has several features that raise significant potential concerns for consumers’ privacy and civil liberties, for innovation and the free flow of information on the Internet, legitimate commerce, and for developing countries’ ability to choose policy options that best suit their domestic priorities and level of economic development," the Electronic Frontier Foundation, a digital civil liberties campaign group, said.



No escape for student loan expats

Legal action is about to begin against hundreds of New Zealand expats who have not made any effort to repay millions of dollars in outstanding student loans. From today, authorities will start sending letters to Australia-based defaulters warning that legal action is being taken as a result of their ongoing refusal to pay up. The letters will be the first step in what will eventually end in court proceedings – and a possible bad credit rating – if repayments are not made. Tertiary Education Minister Steven Joyce told the Herald authorities would be targeting expats who are "seen to be deliberately flouting their opportunities to pay back" their loans. People who have "significant sums of money" owing will also be targeted. 1/6/11


Law to make defaulters pay instantly

A new law that could demand immediate repayment of a student loan may be in place before the election. The Student Loan Scheme Bill, which Revenue Minister Peter Dunne says is designed to target the worst loan defaulters, would grant the Inland Revenue commissioner the power to recall entire loan balances, as well as give the courts power to prosecute anyone who did not comply. That would largely apply to those overseas, who were the worst defaulters, he said. 6/6/11



Contraception for ‘solo mums’

Social Development Minister Paula Bennett is "a big fan" of long acting contraception for solo mums but says her Government is "not quite" at the stage of making it compulsory.

NZ Herald 5/6/11