Monday, November 02, 2009


Yesterday morning, Police Minister Judith Collins fronted up on Q&A to answer questions about new police powers and specifically the police's new asset seizure unit. Paul Holmes pressed her on civil liberties, pointing out that the asset forfeiture regime was the end of "innocent until proven guilty". The Minister's response?

It's fantastic isn't it?
Yes, Really. We have a fascist as a police Minister.

It gets worse. What stops the police from abusing the vast new powers National (and, to be fair, Labour - because this bill and the Search and Surveillance Bill are both Goff's babies) has introduced? Apparently, the police are supposed to be concerned for their reputation, and afraid that they would "lose all credibility" if they victimised innocent people. Yeah, and I have a brewery in Mangitinoka to sell you. But Collins thinks we have other safeguards as well:

All these powers of the Police and other groups, they're all subject to all sorts of controls around the judicial oversight, they're also obviously subject to the Independent Police Complaints Authority. It's very important though too to remember we have a free media in this country, it's part of our democracy, so we don’t live in a country where the media can't say what they think, in fact often do all sorts of things that some of us would rather they didn’t, but the fact is that we do and that is part of our democracy. We have an MMP system, which is also part of the democracy. We don’t live in a Police state, thank God.
Lets look at those one by one, shall we?
  • Judicial oversight is rather difficult when judges don't get a look in. The police need no warrant for example to seize DNA, while the bar to seize property is so low that the judiciary is reduced to a rubberstamp for the prejudices of the police force. Throw in a reverse onus of proof - guilty until proven innocent - and the idea that police abuses will be checked by the courts is simply a joke (that would require, for example, that their victims were able to afford lawyers - difficult when the police have just taken all your money).
  • The Independent Police Conduct Authority simply isn't. The police don't take it seriously; why should we?
  • While a free media is a theoretical check, that would require that they do their jobs, rather than simply relating court gossip and conducting softball interviews to retain "access".
  • As for MMP, National wants to get rid of it.
So much for "safeguards". In reality, the government is handing police vast new powers with incredible potential for abuse - and then taking it on trust that they will use them appropriately and lawfully and not e.g. manufacture evidence to "get their man" (of course not; our police would never do such a thing). And that simply isn't good enough. Systematic distrust of government is the guardian of democracy. And the best safeguard against possible police abuses is robust judicial oversight: making them go to court, present real evidence, and prove guilt not "on the balance of probabilities", but beyond a reasonable doubt. And the government has chucked all that away, just to get a few "tough on crime" headline and an extra $14 million a year in revenue. Fantastic, isn't it?