Friday, June 24, 2005

Asset forfeiture: worse than I thought

In my previous post, I criticised the government's Criminal Proceeds and Instruments Bill for allowing assets to be seized on a civil ("balance of probabilities") standard of proof, as this would almost certainly lead to injustice. However, reading through yesterday's Question Time, it is in fact far worse than that. The bill would also allow assets to be restrained if the police can show that they have "reasonable cause to believe" that they are derived from serious criminal activity. This is the same standard of proof required for a search warrant: suspicion. And according to Phil Goff, it won't just lead to temporary restraint, but outright forfeiture:

This bill is modelled closely on legislation that has operated for many years in New South Wales. In that respect, the New South Wales authority has found that once the assets have been restrained on the basis of "reasonable cause to believe", in 90 percent of cases the crooks give up and surrender the assets without further taxpayer expense and without requiring the involvement in the court system. That is a great thing.

(Emphasis added).

So if the bill becomes law, we won't just be seizing the property of those who are probably criminals, but that of those who might be. This is a ridiculously low standard of proof, and one that is a blatant end-run around the checks and safeguards of the justice system. We would not tolerate a court fining suspected criminals on such low standards; this is no different.


I agree with you that this is outrageous, and I've said as much today myself on my blog. Good on you for pursuing this issue.

Posted by Peter Cresswell : 6/24/2005 12:35:00 PM