Tuesday, December 07, 2010

Lawless order

Back in July, a group of boy racers gathered at Chaneys, outside Christchurch. Police broke up the gathering, arrested those present, and charged them with unlawful assembly. Now, those charges are being thrown out by the courts. Why? Because unlawful assembly, like most public order legislation, is aimed at suppressing riots and requires a threat of violence. There was no suggestion that the boy racers were going to smash windows and set cars on fire, and no evidence produced of any public fears that they would do so. In other words, the police engaged in a false arrest, and a false charge which could not possibly be sustained.

(Meanwhile, 12 people had already pled guilty to this bullshit to avoid onerous bail conditions. Those convictions may now be challenged. And they should be. Its disturbing that police can lodge a bullshit charge, then blackmail you into pleading guilty with the threat of onerous conditions and the expense of defending yourself.)

The core problem here is the police use of "catch-all" offences to punish non-criminal behaviour. While it may be untidy, boy racers merely gathering in public is not a crime. Neither is protesting outside someone's precious tennis game, or a police officer's house. But in all of these cases the police feel an urge to punish or suppress to "maintain order", and so fall back on public order offences, even when they do not apply. And if people don't have legal advice, or aren't willing to contest the charges, they get away with it. The result is a lawless order, which in reality brings the law into contempt.