Thursday, April 09, 2009

Asset forefeiture: passed

The Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Bill, allowing police to seize property from suspected or even acquitted "criminals, has just passed its third reading, 107 - 14. The Greens and the Maori Party were the only parties opposing the bill. The "debate" was perfunctory, with everyone wanting to get away for the Easter break.

This is a disaster for human rights. The fundamental rule in our justice system is "innocent until proven guilty". This law reverses that to "guilty until proven innocent", and in addition lowers the burden of proof from "beyond reasonable doubt" to "the balance of probabilities". It allows people's money, cars, and even homes to be restrained merely on suspicion, then seized if you can't afford a lawyer to contest the restraint.

Overseas these sorts of laws have led to pervasive police corruption. They have led to people being framed for offences they did not commit, and to the police committing torture and even murder in their efforts to take people's property. And thanks to this law, the perverse incentives which led to those crimes will be coming to New Zealand. People worry about quotas for traffic tickets? Wait until they start getting quotas for seizures!

People like David Garrett, Simon Power and Phil Goff regard those fundamental judicial safeguards as an affront to their sense of "justice". But they exist for good reason: to prevent our justice system from making mistakes. This law will mean that innocent people will have their property seized by a police force desperate to meet revenue targets. It will mean people turned out of their homes on mere suspicion of non-specific criminal wrongdoing. And it will almost certainly mean deaths - people commit suicide over far less. And those deaths will be on Garrett, Power and Goff's hands.