Liberty Watch – November 2012

Round up of civil liberty news for November 2012.


Drugs detection in schools

Ensuring drug sniffer dogs continue to detect illegal drugs in schools is essential in dealing with young people's addiction and keeping them in education, a leading Northland youth counsellor says.

Jenny Rooney-Gibbs of Rubicon, a youth alcohol and drug support service based in Whangarei, backed the continued use of dogs and drug testing in schools, saying it was beneficial to children dealing with such issues.

The Education Amendment Bill, which was introduced to Parliament last month, states teachers and contractors cannot use sniffer dogs to search a student or bag under a student's control. Schools cannot use physical force, or require a student to provide a bodily sample, and cannot do random or blanket searches of a student or a bag under a student's control. Dogs can be used only to search school buildings when there are no students present.

The bill clarified the powers of schools and teachers, in particular the situations in which drug detection dogs could be used.

The bill is currently open for submissions before Parliament's education and science select committee. The deadline for submissions is January 24, 2013.

New Zealand Herald 6/11/2



Suspension of elections breaches constitutional values

Proposed legislation that would extend the suspension of local body elections in Canterbury until 2016 is not justified and is a disturbing breach of the rule of law, the New Zealand Law Society says.

Legislation introduced and passed under urgency in 2010, without public consultation, suspended Environment Canterbury elections until 2013. The Environment Canterbury (Temporary Commissioners and Improved Water Management) Amendment Bill proposes to continue the suspension of elections for a further three and a half years, to 2016.

The convenor of the Law Society’s Rule of Law Committee, Austin Forbes QC Forbes said, “Democratic decision-making in local government is a very important and legitimate expectation of citizens. The proposed further suspension of local body democracy runs counter to core constitutional values, most importantly that of a free and democratic society.” 15/11/12


Government signals beginning of compulsory purchases

The owners of more than 100 Christchurch properties have received the first clear signal of the Government's plans to force through the acquisition of their land.

The Christchurch Central Development Unit (CCDU) yesterday sent notices to the 47 owners of 104 properties tagged for projects in the central-city blueprint, outlining its plans to take land.

CCDU director Warwick Isaacs said the notices were the first step in the compulsory acquisition process, adding "If we get to a point where we can't conclude a willing buyer, willing seller negotiation, we will then revert to the compulsory process."

The Press 20/11/12



Judge questions jury trials

A judge has questioned whether lengthy drug trials should be heard by jurors after one expected to take eight weeks was aborted.

The call from Judge David Wilson, QC, came as a methamphetamine trial was dropped as it entered its third week in the Auckland District Court after two jurors had already been excused and a third produced a medical certificate saying they would not be able to sit on the jury for two weeks.  This took the jury panel to below the minimum of 10 needed.  The three accused could have chosen to have their case heard by the nine remaining jurors, but lawyers for the trio exercised their right to have the trial aborted.

Judge Wilson said authorities should examine the possibility of having judges decide on complex drugs cases without a jury because of the investment in court time and lawyers.

Defence lawyer Graham Newell said that rather than remove a defendant's right to choose trial by jury, it would be better to thoroughly screen jurors for their availability and suitability.

University of Auckland associate professor of law Bill Hodge said Judge Wilson's idea had merits and a public debate was needed on the issue, adding that while he was in favour of jury trials, some cases were so complex that they required a judge alone to decide them, adding, "sometimes it's too much to expect a jury to give two to three months of their life."

A spokeswoman for Justice Minister Judith Collins said the minister could not comment on individual cases, but a defendant's right to choose a jury trial was a fundamental principle in the justice system.  However, changes to the Criminal Procedure Act next year would allow judge-alone trials for offences with a maximum term of imprisonment of less than two years.

Otago Daily Times 3/11/12


Prison sentence 'inhumane'

Sending an intellectually impaired convicted murderer to prison was inhumane, and he should serve the remainder of his sentence in a care facility, the Court of Appeal was told by human rights lawyer Tony Ellis.

Jason Mark Ferguson, aged 30, was sentenced to life imprisonment with a minimum non-parole period of 10 years when he was found guilty of murdering caregiver John Sorrenson near Rotorua in June 2002.

When the crime was committed and the trial and sentencing took place, Ferguson was 19-years-old with an IQ of only 57.  Mr. Ellis said.  "His intellectual state was not taken into account at the time of sentence….A humane sentence for someone with an intellectual disability of this level would be…in secure care."

Mr. Ellis said the public would still be safe from Fergusson if he was moved to a care facility, and he would have the benefit of effective treatment at the facility.

Otago Daily Times 6/11/12


Criminals face lifetime monitoring

Dangerous repeat violent offenders and sex offenders could be monitored for the rest of their lives after release from prison, says Police and Corrections Minister Anne Tolley.

She wants to develop a comprehensive management scheme similar to one run in Britain and says a law allowing it could be passed by the 2014 election.

The Government also has a measure before Parliament that would allow ex-prisoners to be sent back to jail indefinitely if the High Court deemed them dangerous enough.  At present, the maximum time a former prisoner can be supervised after release is 10 years.

Asked about civil liberties concerns, Tolley said most offenders found it helpful to have that sort of structure in their lives "and know if something goes wrong, there is someone keeping track of them and they are not on their own out in the community".

Otago Daily Times 12/11/12


Courts softer on criminals white-collar criminals

White-collar criminals evading the taxman are far less likely to go to jail than blue-collar fraudsters, new research shows.

In a pilot study examining three years of tax evasion compared to welfare fraud in New Zealand, Dr Lisa Marriott of Victoria University found that welfare fraud was significantly more likely to be prosecuted than tax crime.  This was despite huge differences in scale.

In 2010 alone, tax evaders cheated the country of between $1 billion and $6b, while welfare fraud cost $39 million.  The average offending for welfare fraudsters was $70,000, and those found guilty had a 60 per cent chance of being jailed.  For tax evaders the average was $270,000, but those found guilty had only a 22 per cent chance of being jailed.

The cases were barely comparable. For example, a welfare fraudster who stole $148,000, at the upper end of the scale, received 18 months in prison. Meanwhile, a tax cheat who failed to pay $222,000 in tax – at the lower end of the prosecution scale – got eight months' home detention and 250 hours' community service. 18/11/12



Disabled face public transport barriers

Difficulties accessing public transport and finding employment pose the biggest problems for disabled Rotorua residents, a disability support worker says.

IDEA Services Rotorua area manager Lianne Bryers said no Rotorua buses were accessible for people in wheelchairs, hindering their ability to travel independently.  "It's about people accepting that everybody needs to be accessing their community," said Bryers, adding that problems with transport and employment often isolated people with disabilities.

This fits in with the findings of the 2012 monitoring report on disability rights in New Zealand, which was released last month.  Findings were based on feedback from 156 disabled people and focused on six main areas – health, employment, access to services and support, awareness around disability, social inclusion and barriers to making complaints.  The report found a major lack of disability services and awareness.

In each of the six focus areas, disabled people said their human rights were not being met, creating barriers to their inclusion in the community.

The Daily Post 7/11/12



Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Bill

The Prohibition of Gang Insignia in Government Premises Bill, which aims to prohibit the display of gang insignia in government premises, is inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression protected by the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, the New Zealand Law Society says.  It would limit a range of free speech, including culturally or politically significant expression that may not be intimidatory or confrontational.

The Law Society also believes the Bill is drafted too widely as was the case with similar measures enacted in 2009 to prohibit the wearing of gang insignia in the Whanganui District.  “Gang insignia” is widely defined in the Bill and does not differentiate between displays of insignia that are intended to intimidate or confront, and displays that are not

Robert Hesketh of the Law Society further said the Bill is unnecessary. There were already a variety of existing laws covering the actual behaviours the prohibition of gang insignia was designed to address. 7/11/12



Gay marriage a human right says MP

Denying homosexuals the right to marry is denying them basic human rights, Labour MP Louisa Wall has stated.

Ms Wall gave the opening submission on her Marriage (Definition of Marriage) Amendment Bill that would clear the way for gay marriage in New Zealand.  Ms Wall told the government administration select committee marriage was a birthright that should be available to all New Zealanders.

"Your sexual determination should not limit your citizenship rights," she said.

The bill passed its first reading in a parliamentary conscience vote with a two-to-one majority in August.

The bill was understood to have already attracted more than 20,000 submissions and was expected to face stiff opposition from conservative and religious groups.

Submissions for the bill closed on October 26 and a report is due from the committee on February 28.

Dominion Post 7/11/11



Widening gender pay gap disheartening, says professor

Statistics New Zealand’s report on an increase in the gender pay-gap was extremely disappointing to read and disheartening for young women a University of Canterbury professor has said.

The gender pay gap has increased from 12.85 percent to 14.18 percent in the year to September according to Statistics NZ’s quarterly report.

Research, including some conducted by Professor Johnston, has shown that women were evaluated less positively than men with identical qualifications and experience when applying for jobs typically filled by men, such as management positions. Women are more likely to be successful in such applications if they dress and talk in a more masculine way – wearing a suit rather than a dress and having a deeper voice, she said.

“Diversity – in terms of sex, ethnicity, age and other factors – in the workplace enhances success and decision making; employers need to recognise this in the recruitment and retention (through pay parity and promotion) of women,’’ Professor Johnston said. 13/11/12


Human Rights Commission releases Census of Women’s Participation 2012

The Human Rights Commission has released the New Zealand Census of Women’s Participation 2012, the fifth report on how women fare in many areas of professional and public life.  Although there were areas of improvement the report still found areas of concern including,

• Two companies in the top ten, Sky Network Television and TrustPower, have no women on their boards

• The New Zealand Police and the New Zealand Defence Force have stalled in terms of women’s progress at the top

• Twenty-two government departments have gender pay gaps bigger than the average pay gap in the labour market

• Nine government departments have more than a 20 per cent gender pay gap including Treasury and the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet

• Women are still less than 30 per cent of judges, less than 25 per cent of senior academic staff, and less than 20 per cent of top legal partnerships



Owners of nuisance cats face restriction

The Invercargill City Council has drafted a bylaw that, if introduced, will restrict the number of cats to three in each house where felines are causing a nuisance in the neighbourhood. 

The draft Keeping of Animals Bylaw was approved for the initial consultation with key stakeholders when it was discussed at yesterday's council regulatory committee meeting.

The public will now be asked for comments on the bylaw before the council makes a final decision next year.

Southland Times 14/11/12



Crimestoppers has record call volume

Anonymous tip-off line Crimestoppers recorded its highest call volume last month.

Figures show the national call centre received 1528 calls nationally in October, the highest number of monthly calls since it started in October 2009.  There was an increase of 61 calls on the previous month, the next highest on record.

The service had fielded 31,483 calls since its launch, and around 1800 online messages.  Around one third of the calls had given police enough information to act, "from starting the intelligence process to carrying out search warrants and making arrests", Spokesperson Lou Gardiner said.

Otago Daily Time 8/11/12


Wrong man held in cells

A Blenheim man spent two nights in police cells at the weekend after another man falsely gave police his name.

Defence lawyer Rennie Gould said that the man had told police when he was arrested on Saturday they had the wrong man, and if they checked their file photos of the suspect they would see it wasn't him.

The arrested man had also contacted Blenheim lawyer Rob Harrison, who had also asked police to check they had the right man, she said.

Marlborough Express 13/11/12


Police back more security cameras

Invercargill police have applauded moves by the city council to consider expanding its security camera network.  However, community development manager Mary Napper stressed that CCTV cameras did not necessarily make people under the influence of alcohol or drugs more reluctant to commit crime.

Southland Times 13/11/12



Prisons crack down on storage space

Prisoners will no longer be able to store large amounts of personal belongings while imprisoned due to a corrections department clampdown.

The department has traditionally stored items like large carvings and paintings, but they have said they no longer have the space and the resources to continue.

Corrections Minister Anne Tolley said the storage of inmates' property was a problem and the department was not in the storage business.

Under the new restrictions, inmates will now be allowed only belongings that fit into a plastic container measuring 50cm by 40cm by 30cm.

New Zealand Herald 14/11/12


Preventing suicides “not worth benefits” says Corrections Department

The Coroner’s inquest into the suicide of an inmate at Rimutaka Prison in May last year strongly criticised the Corrections Department for failing to update its IT systems so that staff can tell whether an inmate is a suicide risk.

The Department has refused to act on the Coroner’s advice saying, “improving our current information systems is regarded as not worth the benefits it would bring because of cost, complexity and the proportionately few incidents it would benefit.”

Howard League spokesperson Madeleine Rose said, “coroners have repeatedly said this is an issue that needs to be addressed, and the Department’s attitude that human lives are ‘not worth the benefits’ is simply shocking”.

Inmates are eleven times more likely to commit suicide than the national average. 14/11/12



Consent details can be passed around

Council building consent information containing personal details is being collated and sold to businesses targeting new homeowners or renovators.

The issue came to light when a homeowner said he started receiving offers for goods and services through his mail after he lodged a resource consent with the New Plymouth District Council.  The homeowner said he should have been told his information would be passed on.

For decades all councils have given building consent information to the What's On report, which collates it and sells it to businesses throughout New Zealand.   "It's something that the council would prefer not to do but is required to do under the law," said council consent manager Ralph Broad. "The reality is we have to release the information if we are asked. It's the same all around New Zealand."

The ombudsman, the government watchdog who investigates and mediates complaints by the public against state agencies, in February 2011 noted that the decision that councils must hand the information over was at odds with the privacy commissioner's thoughts that no public interest considerations favouring release outweighed the privacy interest.

The Privacy Commissioner has said "If the practice of collecting personal information for building and consent purposes continues to be diverted to entities for commercial gain, the Privacy Act would at least expect a statement of this intention and perhaps a disclosure of likely recipients."

Taranaki Daily News 7/11/12



Dotcom investigation

Police investigating illegal spying on Kim Dotcom by the GCSB have received security clearances to conduct their inquiries from the other spy agency.  The investigation was begun after a complaint from Green co-leader Russel Norman. It followed an admission of illegal spying on Mr. Dotcom from Prime Minister John Key, who then apologised to the internet tycoon.

The GCSB and the SIS both report to Mr. Key. The bureau is focused on electronic intelligence gathering and is banned from spying on New Zealanders. The intelligence service has more domestic freedom and a focus on human intelligence gathering.

Mr. Norman said the ability for the SIS to "veto" investigating officers undermined the equal position each person was meant to have under the law. "The problem is they are the sister organisation of the organisation being investigated."

Otago Daily Times 8/11/12