Liberty Watch – Nov/Dec 2011

Round-up of civil liberty news for November and December 2011. There is also our yearly review.


Unicef launches book to champion Kiwi kids' rights

UNICEF NZ is launching a new children's picture book, 'For Each and Every Child'/ He Taonga Tonu te Tamariki', to celebrate and champion the rights of children in New Zealand. The book's launch coincides with the anniversary of the adoption of the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCROC).

The book will be launched at libraries, schools and early childhood centres across New Zealand. The 'Read & Rights' events will introduce the book to children in their local communities so that children can learn about and discover the relevance of their own set of human rights. The book features Maori text alongside the English, with a foreword written by Chief Youth Court Judge Andrew Becroft. 9/11/11


Catch-all charge will end family 'code of silence'

Child advocates are hailing new laws giving wide-sweeping power to prosecute all those turning a blind eye to assaults on the very young.

The Crimes Amendment Act (No3) becomes law on March 19 and will allow police to charge everyone in a household with failing to protect a child.

Waikato Times 7/12/11



Interpreter problems highlighted by Supreme Court

An Ethiopian man who appealed against his conviction for a Wellington rape, claiming the quality of interpreting provided during his trial was inadequate, has failed to have the conviction overturned.  However, the Supreme Court recognised that the trial "did not at times reflect best practice''.

In it’s ruling, the Supreme Court said Abdula's appeal raised an issue that was central to fairness in the administration of criminal justice, which concerned the right of accused people who did not speak English to hear and understand the case being presented against them.

Defendants were dependant on effective interpretation of what was said in court if they were to understand proceedings and have a real opportunity to present a full defence to the criminal charges they faced, the judgement reads.

In future cases, the judgment said, interpretation should not become simultaneous with the giving of evidence. This would give accused time to react appropriately and would avoid the risk of the interpreter missing passages of evidence.

The interpreter should also speak in a voice loud enough for all in the courtroom to hear, plus an audio recording should be made of all criminal trials in which interpretation was required.

While the standard of interpreters in court proceedings was high, "it is not one of perfection'', the Supreme Court said.

Otago Daily Times 1/11/11


Addicts to be tested in new drug courts

Two new drug courts planned for Auckland will follow the American model and feature random compulsory drug and alcohol tests for offenders enrolled in the programme.  Courts currently relied on offenders self-reporting about their drug and alcohol use.

The Alcohol and Other Drug (AOD) Courts would be targeted at the highest-risk offenders and addicts and rely on abstinence that would be regularly checked, and have been funded for a two court pilot that will probably begin in about July next year.

Offenders who are identified as having offended due to their addiction would have to plead guilty early on but would enter the AOD court system before sentencing.  They would have regular appearances before the same judge, undergo rehabilitation, do community work and pay reparation on average for 15 to 18 months. 3/11/11


Prisoner compensation bill breaches rights, says Attorney-General

A bill that would deny prisoners compensation for ill-treatment breaches the Bill of Rights Act, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has said.  Former justice minister Simon Power introduced the bill in October.

Under current law victims can claim compensation awarded to prisoners and Mr. Power wants to make sure anything left over goes to the victim support fund he set up which pays for counselling and support services.

Mr. Finlayson said "Prisoners are especially vulnerable to misuse of state power…denying them an effective remedy is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act."  If the bill is passed, it would be likely to "draw negative attention" from the UN Human Rights Committee.

An adverse report from Mr Finlayson doesn't prevent Parliament passing a bill. news 23/12/11


High-risk criminals to stay behind bars

Prime Minister, John Key, has proposed keeping criminals at high risk of re-offending behind bars even after they've finished their sentences.  Offenders would remain at a secure facility under a new "civil detention order" until the Parole Board was convinced they were safe for release.

Law and order spokeswoman Judith Collins said applications would be made to the High Court for offenders to be held in custody after finishing their jail sentence.

The new proposals were expected to apply to between five and 12 offenders over a 10-year period.

New Zealand Herald 7/11/11



No 90-day trial once job has started

The Employment Court has found an employer can't introduce a 90-day trial period into an employment contract after an employment contract has already begun.  The court also found that if a 90-day trial period is to be included in an employment contract, it must be bargained for fairly.

In his decision, Judge Graeme Colgan said the 90-day trial period must be in writing in the employment agreement and the employee must be given time to seek independent advice on the employment contract before agreeing to it.

Waikato Times 6/12/11



Ejecting Octagon protesters 'not straightforward': police

Dunedin police have said removing the Occupy Dunedin protesters from the Octagon "is not a straightforward matter' and any action must be both reasonable and lawful.  In a statement released this afternoon, Dunedin/Clutha Area Commander, Inspector Greg Sparrow, said the power to trespass people protesting in a public space "must be exercised reasonably and balance rights and freedoms…This is a public space and legally, it is not simply a straightforward matter of police visiting the site and removing people from it".  The police claimed that they had no reason to believe that the activities of the protestors could justify intervention.

Otago Daily Times 2/11/11


John Minto's anti-Israeli tennis protest 'not disorderly

Veteran protester John Minto won a High Court victory with a judge ruling that his megaphone protest against an Israeli tennis player was not disorderly behaviour.  "It goes without saying that a verbalised protest may offend or disturb a member of the public who either disagrees with what is said or takes umbrage at the disruption of his or her own legitimate activities," the judgment says. "But disruption to an individual's enjoyment of a sporting event is not the same thing as disruption of public order." 12/11/11


Banned book seized from Wellington shop

Government officials seized an “indecent” book, Bloody Mama by Robert Thom, which was banned in 1971, from a Wellington bookstore. The book was deemed indecent and banned by the now defunct Indecent Publications Tribunal 40 years ago, however the ruling still stands.

A person can be fined up to $50,000 or sentenced to a maximum of five years in prison if they possess a banned book under the Films, Videos, and Publications Classification Act 1993.

An organisation can be fined up to $200,000 for distributing a banned book and an individual can be sentenced to a maximum of 10 years in prison.

There are 1319 books banned in New Zealand and a further 728 restricted in some way.

Decisions on more than two-thirds of the restricted or banned books were made before 1987.

Dominion Post 23/11/11



Ban on patches to home in on specific areas

A new version of Whanganui's gang patch ban will have insignia outlawed at parks, sports grounds and shopping centres, rather than the entire city.

Mayor Annette Main said it would home in on specific points in the city where large groups of people gathered or there was a history of "incidents" taking place.  "It's mostly our parks, sports grounds and shopping centres, both urban and central. It's quite similar to our liquor ban areas.

Waikato Times 28/11/11



Disabled man's caregiver to face human rights hearing

A caregiver who left a severely disabled man alone in a hot van until he wet himself has been ordered to face a Human Rights Tribunal hearing.

The tribunal has the power to award compensation or order exemplary damages payments.

New Zealand Herald 12/12/11



'Slave' wife may be forced to leave NZ

Nazima Khatun left her South Taranaki home earlier this year to escape what she says was a decade of being treating like a domestic slave.  However, when she finally plucked the courage to leave her husband, who had been convicted and discharged for common assault against her, she effectively became an illegal immigrant, as she and her three children are tied to her estranged husband's work visa.

Hawera Rape Crisis manager Pam Bassett said that women who leave their partners were potentially deporting themselves while the men, in most cases, continued to live and work in the country.

Immigration New Zealand Visa Services general manager Nicola Hogg acknowledged the "difficult" situation and said support could be provided under a "victims of domestic violence" category.  Under that category, applicants who met set requirements could be granted a work visa and later apply for residence in New Zealand.  However, Ms Khatun does not qualify for this because her husband was not a New Zealand citizen or resident. 17/12/11



“Tea pot” tape police action condemned

The International Federation of Journalists (IFJ) has condemned actions by the New Zealand police against news organisations over the “tea pot” tapes, whereby a journalist inadvertently recorded the prime ministers conversation while having tea in a publicity stunt with ACT member John Banks. 

Jacqueline Park, Asia-Pacific director of the IFJ, said police demands on media outlets were  "alarming'', warning it could be interpreted as an attempt to suppress media freedom.

New Zealand Herald 18/11/11


Tea tapes costs part of 'dangerous' attack on media

The Attorney General is seeking almost $14,000 in costs from Bradley Ambrose, who made the recording and had sought a declaration from the High Court at Auckland over the recording's legality.  The court declined his request.

The decision to seek court costs has been slammed as part of a dangerous government attack on the media.  Otago University politics lecturer Bryce Edwards in expressing concern that the decision signalled a warning to the media from the Government, said,

“You have to be careful, you have to not challenge the powers that be, not take too strong a role in keeping the Government of the day and other politicians held to account.

"That's just incredibly dangerous. This is the kind of thing we expect in more authoritarian countries than New Zealand.''

Dr Edwards noted other freelance journalists had been singled out by the Government, including Jon Stephenson and Nicky Hager, who came under fire this year for their reporting on New Zealand's involvement in Afghanistan.

Mainstream media outlets had also been subjected to the Government's "extraordinarily aggressive and hostile'' approach, he said citing Speaker Lockwood Smith's decision to ban the New Zealand Herald from the parliamentary press gallery for 10 days after a reporter took a photo of a protester in the public gallery in the House.

Otago Daily Times 28/12/11


Election comments banned online

Facebook and Twitter users were warned to be careful what they posted online on the day of the General Election or they could face hefty fines for breaching election rules.

On Election Day it is an offence to publish anything intended or likely to influence people before they vote. Political parties must remove all billboards, and media must not publish anything about the election before 7pm.  Fines for breaching the rules are up to $20,000.. 25/11/11



Police decline protest request

Police have declined to reveal further information about how they thwarted Greenpeace plans to protest at Port Taranaki.

Greenpeace raised concerns at the level of police scrutiny waiting for activists as they arrived in New Plymouth to demonstrate over the arrival of the seismic survey ship Polarcus Alima in October.

Five police cars and 10 officers met the group just south of New Plymouth and a police launch had been brought in with the expectation of a protest on the water.

At the time Simon Boxer, of Auckland, said the level of police presence and readiness raised questions about how they got their information.

The Taranaki Daily News requested further details about the police operation, under the Official Information Act, including where the police launch came from, when it arrived at Port Taranaki, how police were aware of the plans to protest at the ship's arrival, whether Greenpeace members were under surveillance, what surveillance methods were used and whether other government agencies were involved in the operation.

Inspector David White, of Central District police headquarters, turned down the request.

"Police are withholding this information … in that to release that information would be likely to prejudice the maintenance of law, including the prevention, investigation and detection of offences," Mr White said.

The only information Mr White would provide was that New Plymouth police were in charge of the operation run by area commander Inspector Blair Telford.

Taranaki Daily News 10/11/11


Police in gun over snooping

Almost 40 police officers have been investigated for using the police national database to spy on New Zealanders for no valid reason during the last four years.

Since February 2008, police have investigated 38 staff for accessing the police National Intelligence Application (NIA) for non-work related purposes, according to figures released under the Official Information Act.

Earlier this year it was revealed that North Shore Senior Constable Terry Beatson accessed the NIA more than a dozen times over a four year period to leak information to his wife to help her in a custody battle with her ex-husband.

The ex-husband reportedly uncovered the leak when he noticed private information about him was contained in an affidavit his wife filed with the Family Court.

It's understood Beatson was disciplined but not fired over the incident.

Police refused to release details on the investigations to ''protect the privacy'' of those involved. 23/11/11


Police want heads-up about parties

Palmerston North residents are being urged to consult police before holding parties after 13 people were arrested at a drunken gathering in the city.

People organising parties in the Christmas and New Year period were advised to register any upcoming festivities with police.

The police party register, located at the Palmerston North police station, provides police with information about parties, and allows them to offer hosts safety tips.

Manawatu Standard 20/12/11


Man charged for 'loving the police'

A Pakistani man has been charged after he rang police communications and told them he "loves the New Zealand police".

The police charged him with using a telecommunications device to knowingly give a fictitious message.

The man is due to reappear in court on January 13. 20/12/11



Writing cheques in Maori

Gisborne Lawyer Allan Hall has pointed out that Maori, as an official language of New Zealand, and because of the Maori Language Act, banks accept cheques written in Maori, and so too should a cheque recipient.

He spoke up after a cheque written in Maori, at the Gisborne McDonald’s Restaurant, was questioned because it was written in Maori.

Gisborne Herald 10/12/11