Friday, May 08, 2009

Worse than ASBOs

For the past two months, I have been attempting to extract information from Judith Collins about her plans to use "cease and desist" orders against boy racers. As I've noted before, these orders smell a lot like ASBOs, the "anti-social behaviour orders" used by the UK government to do an end-run around human rights and fair-trial protections as part of its pedophobic "tough on crime" campaign. But the police's original proposals, which I obtained under the Official Information Act despite Judith Collins' best efforts to prevent it - don't just smell like ASBOs - they're worse. How? Well, even under the Scottish system which the police are using as a model, issuing an ASBO requires a hearing before a sheriff or magistrate. While the standard of evidence is low - the sheriff must merely be "satisfied" that the target of the order has engaged in (ill-defined) "anti-social behaviour", and that an order is "necessary" to protect others from further incidents - the evidence can be contested and the alleged necessity challenged. The New Zealand Police, OTOH, want the following:

  • Give Police the ability to serve a notice on the driver (or owner) of the vehicle requiring they "desist" for 2 years (nothing prevents an arrest or prosecution where a substantive offence is disclosed, and this order could be served regardless);
  • make the threshold "good cause to suspect" a driver or any person has participated in vehicle disorder (e.g. Police turn up after persistent complaints and find several cars, hot tires, diesel on the roadway, noisy exhausts, etc);
  • Make it applicable to the vehicle owner and driver in any combination (the Scots do this as many racer cars are shared amongst drivers);
  • Make any breach of the notice a summary offence (3 months imprisonment / $2,000 fine)

(Emphasis added)

So, no court, no hearing, no evidence - just a single police officer's suspicion. You don't even have to be suspected of committing a specific offence - being in the wrong place at the wrong time is enough. In fact, it's quite clear that you can be punished for the offending of others, without any requirement to prove or even allege that you were involved. This isn't justice - it's the worst sort of lazy authoritarianism. A decent Minister who respected the Bill of Rights Act would reject it outright. But given this government's past contempt for the BORA, she probably found some way to make it even worse.

As a final note, there is little in this document that has not already appeared in the media, suggesting that it has already effectively been publicly released. which raises the question: why try and withhold it? There seems to be little reason other than a pathological desire for secrecy and an utter contempt for the principle of open government on behalf of the Minister. And unfortunately, there is no way other than public embarrassment to force her to respect the law.