Friday, July 25, 2008

Asset forfeiture: reported back

The Law and Order Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill. The bill would "reform" New Zealand's asset forfeiture law to a non-conviction-based regime, breaking down barriers between civil and criminal proceedings and allowing police to seize money, cars, homes and other valuables from people who have not been convicted of a crime (or worse, actually acquitted of one by a jury) under a "guilty until proven innocent" system with a lower burden of proof - Ahmed Zaoui standards of evidence. It's a bill every person who cares about justice and human rights should oppose.

Unfortunately, the MPs on the Law and Order Committee do not care about those things, and the bill has survived practically unchanged. There have been some minor tweaks to align it with the government's new organised crime agency (the forfeiture agency will be the police - though they won't get to keep the money, thank Cthulhu), and with current policy on Serious Fraud Office-style powers (powers to force suspects to incriminate themselves have been toned down and subjected to judicial oversight), but the rest of the bill is unchanged. The real issues around justice and human rights with this sort of system (summarised in my submission) have simply been ignored.

New Zealand will regret this. These powers are a recipe for injustice and police misconduct. They give the police real powers to punish on mere suspicion, and to victimise those who have the temerity to be acquitted of serious crime (something the police seem to regard as a mere technicality and a failure of the justice system rather than of themselves). Given that the police make mistakes (Arthur Allen Thomas, anyone?), innocent people will lose their homes, and possibly even their lives as a result of this bill. But politicians will get to posture about being "tough on crime", which is apparently all that matters.

If this is the sort of legislation Labour passes when in government, then they simply do not deserve to be in power.