Liberty Watch – March 2012

Round up of civil liberty news for March 2012.


39-year-old banned from bar for being 'too old'

A 39-year-old company director said he is shocked and insulted after being turned away from a bar for being "too old".  When the age issue has arisen in the past, including at a hen party in Hamilton two years ago and a Wellington student bar in 2008, the Human Rights Commission said bars could not exclude people on the basis of age, gender, sexual orientation, political or religious beliefs.

Bay of Plenty Times 19/3/12



Court fight looms over rights of disabled children

Human Rights Commission lawyers have agreed to take up a complaint alleging that state schools are discriminating against thousands of disabled pupils.

IHC claims the state education system is failing pupils with special needs and illegally denying them the right to an education at their local schools.  Discrimination included conditions limiting the hours disabled children could attend class, or pupils being sent home when teacher aides were sick: access to extracurricular activities such as school plays or camps denied because of disabilities; parents asked to contribute financially to keep their disabled children in mainstream classrooms; and suspension for disability-related behaviour, not misconduct. 12/3/12



Constitutional Concerns On Family Court Judge Not Resigning

“The failure of Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier to stand down at the end of his eight-year term has raised constitutional issues according to Bruce Tichbon, spokesperson for Families Apart Require Equality (FARE).

“The Family Courts Act states that Principle Family Court Judges can only serve for eight years without reappointment. Judge Boshier was appointed on 12 March 2004. Claims that he is exempt because he was appointed before the Act came into force simply do not wash…At very least, the public are entitled to an explanation of this constitutional state of affairs, and some indication of when Judge Boshiers term will actually expire now that the law restricting him to an eight-year term is to be ignored”, said Tichbon 12/3/12



Prison health care flaws exposed

Flaws in prison health systems are revealed in a report entitled Investigation of the Department of Corrections in relation to the Provision, Access and Availability of Prisoner Health Services.  Areas of concern highlighted by Chief Ombudsman Beverley Wakem and David McGee include unused medication wasting taxpayer money; a lack of resources to provide adequate dental services; poor management of mentally unwell prisoners; prisoners being denied prescribed medication; and paracetamol being "dished out like lollies".

The ombudsman's investigation found there was only one medical officer at a prison with 666 inmates who was contracted to work four hours a week.  Another officer worked three hours at a different prison with 112 inmates, while a third officer worked 20 hours a week at another prison with 280 inmates.

New Zealand Herald 4/3/12


Law to limit inmate water consumption 'ludicrous'

The Corrections Amendment Bill aims to reform prison management systems, and includes a provision to stop prisoners from deliberately watering down urine samples for drug tests.  Under the proposed change, it would be an offence for a prisoner to consume "any substance with intent to dilute or contaminate the sample''.

Mr Brooking, who is the clinical manager for Alcohol and Drug Assessment and Counselling, said, "Prisoners are now facing a kind of double jeopardy whereby they can be charged if they don't produce a sample, and if they drink water to help them produce a sample, which is not an unreasonable thing to do, they can get charged for that as well''.

Otago Daily Times 26/3/12


NZ Prison system derided by international study

According to an international report undertaken by the British Audit Office New Zealand has the second highest imprisonment rate among comparable countries.   Jarrod Gilbert, Howard League advocate, said that international comparisons showed that New Zealand’s prison population was growing at the fastest rate – 17 percent over four years.  He further highlighted that Māori imprisonment rates are enormous – 700 per 100,000 of the population compared with199 overall.  25/3/12


Lawyers fight cuts to legal aid

Criminal lawyers are suing to have the Government's new legal aid payment scheme declared unlawful.  

The Criminal Bar Association (CBA) have sought interim relief and a judicial review of the decision to establish fixed fees for criminal legal aid.  Lawyers will now be paid a set fee based on the seriousness of their client's charges, not how much work they actually do on it. They were previously paid an hourly rate.

The change was made to satisfy a Government directive of making a 10 per cent cut to the legal aid scheme, the CBA says. 6/3/12


Complaint case exposes judicial watchdog's woes

The Office of the Judicial Conduct Commissioner which investigates claims of improper behaviour by judges is floundering under a rising tide of complaints.  Commissioner Sir David Gascoigne said, "The present level of resources – especially people, but also premises and equipment – is increasingly inadequate for the task in hand. This is a serious issue, detrimentally affecting the effectiveness of the office."

High Court's Justice Tim Brewer said it was clear the legislation that established the commission was not working as intended, as "The purpose of the act is, in part, to enhance public confidence in the judicial system”, Justice Brewer said.

New Zealand Herald 13/3/12



Worker drug tests increase

Figures released by the New Zealand Drug Detection Agency (NZDDA) showed 52,124 tests were carried out last year – a 77 per cent increase from 2010.  New Zealand Drug Detection Agency (NZDDA) Gisborne general manager Steven Trafford said, “Last year we drug-tested new industries such as seasonal staff, which has never really happened before. The whole process is ‘becoming the norm’”.

Gisborne Herald 17/3/12



Rule change to boost female boardroom presence beyond 9.3%

Despite making up half of the population, as of last year women occupied just 9.3% of the board seats on the NZX's 100 biggest companies.

Fisher and Paykel Healthcare, Port of Tauranga, Cavalier Corporation, New Zealand Oil and Gas, Infratil and GPG are some of the listed firms that have never had so much as a single female director.

The NZX aim to launch requirements this year to force companies to disclose exactly how diverse boards and management teams are.  NZX chief executive Mark Weldon said a consultation document that included its proposed rules on diversity disclosure would be sent to listed firms on March 29.

Some European countries have taken aggressive steps to tackle the issue, for example, in 2003, Norway introduced a 40% quota for women on corporate boards.  Listed companies not complying were threatened with exclusion from the stock exchange.  France and Spain introduced similar laws and the European Union has been moving towards an EU-wide quota.

Shareholders' Association Spokesperson Des Hunt said, “there is a lot of information that suggests if you can get more women on boards, with the right skill level, then companies perform better".

Otago Daily Times 13/3/12



Search and Surveillance Bill passes

Parliament has passed the Government's controversial Search and Surveillance Bill by 61 votes to 57.

Justice Minister Judith Collins said the new law brought "order, certainty, clarity and consistency" to "messy, unclear and outdated" laws, adding that there were a number of safeguards in the legislation to balance law enforcement and investigation powers with human rights values.

Critics of the Bill have claimed that it fundamentally alters the balance of powers between the State and individuals in this country at the cost of some core concepts of justice.  Some of its clauses include the removal of both the right to silence, and the right not to incriminate oneself (right not to participate in one's own prosecution).  The Bill also allows warrant-less surveillance, it equates 24-hour surveillance with a one-off search, it allows computers to be remote-accessed and gives police, Customs and Internal Affairs the right to break into homes to bug and film people.  It also allows judges to decide whether journalists can protect their sources or not.

Thomas Beagle from the New Zealand Council for Civil Liberties told TV ONE's Breakfast the changes represent a dangerous invasion of privacy.  The full interview can be seen here:



Tuhoe want inquiry on police tactics

A Tuhoe leader Tamati Kruger says a commission of inquiry is needed on police tactics during Operation 8.  The tribe gathered affidavits from Ruatoki residents immediately after the 2007 raids when armed, balaclava-wearing police sealed off the settlement at checkpoints.  Those affidavits describe experiences where police detained people for hours without food or water, without formally arresting them; subjected women to intimate body searches; herded people into sheds while property searches were under way; and photographed residents at the roadblock at the valley entrance.

Police Minister Anne Tolley rejected the call stating, "While it isn't appropriate for me to talk about something that is before the courts, I can say I don't believe there should be an inquiry".

New Zealand Herald 22/3/12



Deaf MP granted funding

Deaf MP Mojo Mathers has been granted funding for support in the House to be paid by Parliamentary Services.  She said the decision was a "very positive result" for the disability community and for herself as an MP.  She added that, “This decision provides genuine equity for treatment for people with disability who get elected in to Parliament."

The move to introduce captioning on Parliament TV was particularly welcome, she said. It would greatly increase access to the political debate and Parliament to the 700,000 New Zealanders with a hearing impairment.

Dominion Post 9/3/12


Lights-off entrapment police probe

Nelson Bays area commander Inspector Steve Greally has admitted some of his officers have violated traffic laws and operating procedures while on patrol in Takaka.  He has opened an investigation into charges that police were entrapping motorists by driving without headlights.

The Press 9/3/12

Double-shot Tasers safer than alternatives claim police

Plans have been confirmed about the phasing in of an updated taser model that fires two high-powered charges.  The existing Taser X26s will be replaced with Taser X2, that can fire a back-up shot removing the need to reload after the first shot.

Campaign Against the Taser representative Marie Dyhrberg said there needed to be more publication and debate before introducing the new technology, adding that "If police were working at improving de-escalation skills then that would bring more confidence that the instances of any abuse would be greatly minimised.''

New Zealand Herald 28/3/12



Privacy breach on 9000 ACC claims

Private details of more than 9000 ACC claims – some featuring well-known people – have been emailed to a person who should not have received them, in what has been described as one of the worst privacy breaches in New Zealand history.

The details included personal information on nearly 250 clients from ACC's most secure unit – the sensitive claims unit. The sensitive claims unit is a special unit containing ACC's most sensitive claimants, including sexual abuse and rape victims.  Full names, the nature of each claim and dispute, and individual claim numbers were among the information revealed.

Senior management at ACC were told three months ago but made no effort to investigate or contain the breach with the recipient.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said New Zealand laws are behind other jurisdictions in not providing for mandatory reporting of data privacy breaches and her office is developing a view on the need for there to be consequences for data breaches.

Waikato Times 13/3/12



Racial prejudice, inequality 'still entrenched in NZ'

New Zealand has made "solid progress" in improving race relations in the past five years but still suffers from continuing racial prejudice and inequality, the race relations commissioner says.

The Human Rights Commission's annual review of race relations notes several achievements, including the introduction of a new school curriculum emphasising the importance of the Treaty of Waitangi, and a wider appreciation for the increasing religious diversity in New Zealand, but it also highlights problems such as the continuing discrimination and harassment experienced by Asian New Zealanders and the continuing disadvantage experienced by Maori and Pacific people.

Race Relations Commissioner Joris de Bres said barriers continuing to undermine positive race relations included racial prejudice, and entrenched views and negative attitudes towards migrants, refugees, the Treaty and indigenous rights.

Dominion Post 8/3/12



Auckland Council's Occupy bill lists spy firm payout

Documents obtained under the Official Information Act show some of the council's $126,673 security costs at Aotea Square and other sites included a payment to private investigators and security firm Thompson & Clark. The company was one of three security firms the council hired to manage and evict the protest.

In 2007, investigative journalist Nicky Hager found that the Auckland company had paid a student to infiltrate environmental group Save Happy Valley for state-owned enterprise Solid Energy. Last year it was caught out attaching a tracking device to an animal rights campaigner's car.

New Zealand Herald 1/3/12