Media release: we oppose gang patch ban

The Council views the government’s proposals to further undermine the civil liberties of New Zealanders accused of being gang members with concern.

Proposed news laws will ban the wearing of gang patches and force people accused of being gang members to stop associating with each other. This is directly counter to the freedoms of expression and association that are protected in the New Zealand Bill of Rights.

“Being able to dress the way you please and to wear messages that indicate your membership of a group is one of the more obvious examples of freedom of expression. The government’s plan would be able to arbitrarily designate someone as a member of a gang and remove that right for them, and it seems unlikely that it will have any real benefit in stopping crime,” says NZCCL chairperson Thomas Beagle.

“Sending someone to jail for 6 months for wearing a patch is a gross infringement on civil liberties as well as a waste of time and money for everyone involved,” continues Mr Beagle, “One wonders whether it will just encourage more people to tattoo their affiliations on their face.”

The Council has also opposed similar patch bans in Whanganui in 2009 and Christchurch in 2006.

That the proposed changes will also allow Police to issue non-consorting orders for up to seven days is an embarrassment in a rights-based society. The Bill of Rights very simply says that “Everyone has the right to freedom of association” and the Council doesn’t accept that the Police should be able to arbitrarily make orders stripping this right away.

The Courts will also have the ability to make non-consorting orders for up to three years.

“This law will break up families who have multiple members accused of belonging to a gang. Under the law they would not be able to meet each other or even talk to each other for up to three years. The law attacks families and weakens familial ties,” says Mr Beagle.

“We are also concerned that this power is an unhealthy precedent. Once established it’s possible to see that it could easily be extended to other ‘undesirables’ such as protesters engaged in protected political activity,” continues Mr Beagle.

“The Council believes that the government should let law enforcement concentrate on catching those who break real laws with real victims, rather than making up spurious new laws that undermine civil liberties to little effect.”

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