Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill

Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill

It seems strange that in this society that values so much the rule of law, and one where other government departments must keep stringently to their legal mandate, the New Zealand Police are able to stretch the law to suit themselves, and then require retrospective legislation to legalise their actions.

The police may state that they believed they were working inside the law. However they must have known that that was not the case – papers produced in 2010 to clarify the Search and Surveillance legislation indicated then that in part the Bill was to mandate actions the police had assumed without legal support.

It must also be noted that one of the laws the police are required to enforce is the Bill of Rights Act, which gives people protection against unreasonable search and seizure. Any other person engaging in such unlawful acts would face police prosecution.

It is not the first time the police have exceeded the rule of law and then requested legislation to support their actions. For instance In the 1990s police were illegally pursuing people onto private property without warrant after driving pursuits, prompting changes to the law to mandate that behaviour. And earlier this year legislation was changed to legitimise the police's illegal retention of newborn children's heelprick samples to build a DNA sample bank.

Police already have wide powers in New Zealand, and regularly make submissions and public appeals to widen those powers even further. Much of the concern about the Search and Surveillance Act has been that the Act gives police unprecedented powers of search and surveillance over people with few safeguards or protections for the people subject to those powers.

If the police have been using illegal means to obtain information, even if it is to prosecute other people acting illegally, then the police should not be exempt from the law, and parliament should not be making retrospective laws to legitimise their illegal procedures.

The law already acknowledges that such practices might sometimes be necessary by allowing evidence collected through illegal surveillance to be presented in court in 'serious crimes'.. That the police require a retrospective law change can only mean that they use trespass and secret surveillance even for cases that the courts would not consider 'serious'. The police indicate by the fact that they affirm there are more than forty cases awaiting prosecution that this illegal trespass and surveillance is common or even standard practice.

The police are mandated to uphold the rule of law. It is a strange irony that they are permitted not only to get away with illegal acts, but to have them retrospectively legitimised by parliament. Instead they should be subject to prosecution, in the same way that other people are prosecuted for trespass and spying.