Tuesday, May 19, 2009

"Boy racers": crushing our human rights

Back in February, in a typical authoritarian knee-jerk reaction, Police Minister Judith Collins proposed crushing the cars of boy racers and forcing them to watch. Yesterday I acquired the Ministry of Justice's advice on this proposal - and as with their advice on ASBOs, it is less than enthusiastic:

Justice has several concerns about the proposed changes to the Sentencing Act to allow routine vehicle crushing. The punishment may be disproportionate to the offence, and there may be issues with consistency between sentences if both high value and low value vehicles are crushed. There is also a question as to the appropriateness of crushing a valuable commodity of this kind, particularly when the car may be substantially owned by a finance company and this may result in a significant debt burden. Innocent third parties with an interest in the vehicle would also be unfairly penalised by crushing confiscated vehicles. In addition, the cost of storing and eventually crushing vehicles would fall to Justice. Currently funding is not allocated within Justice's baseline to accommodate these increased costs. This option is therefore not considered appropriate.
(Memo to Ministers of Justice and Courts on "proposals to address illegal street racing and associated antisocial behaviour")

Which sounds pretty much like "it's a crock of shit and it stinks". So you can see how it will end up. From the same memo:

However, due to the high level of publicity it has generated, Police consider work to further explore this matter is necessary and are leading further cross-agency work on this matter.
In the final memo in early March, Justice elaborates further on the problems:
  • Applying such orders to a limited class of offending undermines consistency and relativity between the sentences imposed for comparable and more serious offences. For example, it would be anomalous for forfeiture and destruction orders to apply to illegal street racing offences, but not to the more serious offence of vehicular manslaughter or careless use of a motor vehicle causing injury or death
  • Forfeiture and destruction orders would have different consequences in different cases. An offender who had a high value vehicle would lose a great deal more than an offender with a low value vehicle, even though they may have committed the same offence. In extreme cases, involving lower level offending and high value vehicles, it may even constitute a disproportionate penalty in breach of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990.
  • Forfeiture and destruction orders would have an effect on finance companies. In many cases, the vehicle could be heavily financed and the companies would lose the security for the debt.
  • In the case of low value vehicles, Justice would have to absorb most, if not all of the costs associated with the orders. Justice would have to pay to store the vehicles until any appeals had been determined or the time for appealing had expired. it would also have to pay to have the vehicle crushed or otherwise dismantled. Unlike confiscation orders, where sale of the vehicle provides a larger sum of money, it would be difficult to recoup all of these costs when the vehicle is destroyed.
Despite this, the Minister still wanted crushing, and directed the Ministries of Justice, Transport and Police to develop a proposal to seize and crush vehicles where an offender has been convicted of two street racing offences in the past four years. It would be nice if Ministers could deal with their impotence issues in private, rather than crushing our human rights.