Wednesday, August 30, 2023

A violation of the rights of children

Last week, in a desperate attempt to get some "tough on crime" and "we hate children" headlines before the election, the government introduced the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill. The core provisions increase penalties for ram-raiding, allow children to be prosecuted as adults for it, allow them to be stuck in a police DNA databank for the rest of their lives as a result, and allow them (and other people) to be punished more heavily if they livestream or post a video of a criminal offence. In other words, stop those annoying kids from posting tik-tok videos which undermine the government's "tough on crime" narrative. Now, the Attorney-General has warned that it violates the Bill of Rights Act:

The Government’s plan to crack down on ram raids has been given a stinging rebuke by Attorney-General David Parker, who says it is inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act (BORA) on multiple grounds.


Parker, in vetting the bill against the protections in the BORA, said it appeared to be inconsistent on three grounds: the right of a child to be dealt with in an age-appropriate way, the right to be free from unreasonable search or seizure, and the right to freedom of expression.

The bill might be justifiable if the benefits outweighed the harms, but Parker said that “a court is, having considered relevant evidence, likely to conclude that the harms outweigh the benefits”.

“In terms of benefits, it is unlikely that the new pathway into the Youth Court for 12 and 13-year-olds will, as a general proposition, result in a systematic benefit of reducing criminal offending or improving child outcomes,” he said.

...which is obvious: while the Boomers love it, sticking kids in jail never helps, and usually makes things much, much worse, for them and for everybody else. Meanwhile, on the anti-tiktok provision, its clearly punishing people for expression, and its not hard to see cases where such expression has significant value. To point out one obvious example, a political protest which is livestreamed engages exactly the core values section 14 of the BORA exists to protect, and punishing people more harshly for doing so is a gross violation of that right. It is easy to see a future court overturning sentences, convictions, and the law itself if it is used in that manner (as it almost certainly will be by police looking to throttle protest).

So, did Parliament take the Attorney-General's warning seriously, and send the bill back to the drawing board for further work before considering it? Of course not - they sent it straight to select committee. And if it emerges without significant change, it will be another example of how Parliament doesn't take its responsibilities under the BORA seriously, and why we need ultimately to take the job off them and give it to judges, rather than headline-chasing politicians.