Tuesday, August 12, 2008

Reported back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF] on the Organised Crime (Penalties and Sentencing) Bill. The bill will double the penalty for "participation in an organised criminal group" (a crime for which no-one is ever prosecuted), and allow such participation to be treated as an aggravating factor at sentencing - effectively introducing punishment by association into the New Zealand justice system (and without trial, to boot). In other words, a knee-jerk reaction designed to show people the government is "doing something" about crime, at the expense of justice and fundamental human rights.

Sadly, it is unsurprising that the select committee actually made the bill worse, adding a clause which broadened the meaning of "organised criminal activity" beyond the existing law to include "any other form of organised criminal association". The difference is important because s98A limits "organised criminal offending" to serious stuff - the predicate offences either have to carry a penalty of 4 years imprisonment or more, or be serious violent offences. This, OTOH, will allow judges to make it up as they go along, and invoke serious penalties for increasingly trivial offences. The police must be creaming their pants.

Criminals should be tried, and if convicted, punished. But it must be done properly. Crimes of association have no place in any justice system. And the idea that judges alone should be able to effectively convict and punish a defendant of what is effectively an additional crime at sentencing, without any offer of proof by the prosecution or weighing of the evidence by a jury is abhorrent to the very idea of justice. This bill should be fed to the incinerator. Unfortunately, since its election year, we'll instead see the unseemly spectacle of politicians falling over each other in an effort to make it even more vicious and unjust.