Monday, May 18, 2009

"Boy Racers": Justice hates ASBOs

For the past two months, I have been attempting to extract information from the government on its proposals to use "cease and desist" orders against boy racers. Two weeks ago, I managed to extract the Police's initial list of demands to Judith Collins, which included an authoritarian plan to apply "cease and desist" orders to vehicles on suspicion, with no court, no hearings, and no requirement for evidence - a policy which is even worse than ASBOs. Today, I received the Ministry of Justice's advice on these proposals - and they utterly pan them. Here's what they had to say about the proposal to use ASBO-style "cease and desist" orders to target disorderly behaviour:

Justice officials recently met with Transport and Police officials to discuss the proposal to create powers for police to issue 'cease and desist' notices and the adequacy of the existing sections 3 and 5A of the Summary Offences Act (1981) (SOA) relating to disorderly behaviour and disorderly assembly respectively. This proposal is intended to target antisocial activity (rather than actual street racing) that may result where large groups of people congregate to watch, but not necessarily participate in, illegal street racing.

[Paragraph withheld under s9(2)(h) OIA - legal advice]

Justice agrees that section 3 as it currently stands is adequate, and can be appropriately used in response to situations such as those recently experienced in Christchurch.

Officials are concerned that 'cease and desist' has become a 'soundbite' catchphrase for tackling illegal street racers without understanding the implications of such a regimes implications [sic]. Such orders resemble the Anti-Social behaviour Orders (ASBOs) currently in place in the UK. Justice is concerned that failure to comply with such orders can quickly escalate and criminalise people whose original offences were relatively minor. In turn this escalation creates increased costs for enforcement agencies and courts.

Getting a 'cease and desist' notice could also become a 'badge of honour' and lose its deterrent impact. Anecdotal evidence indicates this is th case with Antisocial behaviour Orders (ASBOs) in the United Kingdom.

Justice also considers that the proposed cease and desist orders risk conflicting with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990, and the status quo provides adequate tools for Police, without potentially impinging citizen's rights to free association and assembly.

Due to these concerns, [3-4 words withheld under s9(2)(g)(i) - free and frank advice] Justice officials recommend against cease and desist notices. Officials believe the SOA, used correctly, is a more powerful and appropriate tool.

(Memo to Ministers of Justice and Courts on "proposals to address illegal street racing and associated antisocial behaviour; links added)

The memo has a large section on "illegal street racing and successful local responses" (OMG! Evidence-based policy!), contrasting the success of Hamilton, Tauranga, New Plymouth and Manukau in dealing with "boy racers" by using liquor bans, a specific road closure, provision of dedicated facilities, and the use of dedicated teams (interestingly, deaths due to racing seem to play as much of a role as policy and policing in preventing it; people stop when they see their friends killed). And on this issue at least, the government seems to have paid attention - while further details of the "cease and desist" scheme have been withheld (something I will be challenging with the Ombudsmen), the final memo indicates that the Minister of Justice, Police, transport and Courts rejected those options, instead directing police to

review their existing operational approaches to managing illegal street racing and the anti-social behaviour associated with it and to ensure all legislative and other operational policing approaches are being delivered effectively.
It's a rare victory for sanity (really, boy racing does seem to be a Christchurch problem, exacerbated by thuggish policing). Unfortunately, its the only one. I have more documents on the proposals for car crushing and "vehicle orders", but they deserve posts of their own.