Monday, February 29, 2016

Housing NZ colludes to deny the right to bail

Radio New Zealand reports on the disturbing practice of the Police, Corrections, and Housing New Zealand colluding to block bail requests:

Housing New Zealand is standing in the way of poor people getting home detention or being bailed to state houses even when they have no other options, lawyers say.

Police and Corrections are also being criticised for alerting Housing New Zealand to bail applications when they would not do the same with private landlords.

A person is more likely to be locked up - whether they've just been charged or already convicted - if they cannot find an address to go to that is acceptable to the court.

Judges ask police and probation what they think about an address, and they in turn have been making a habit of asking Housing New Zealand what it thinks.

What's wrong with this? Where to start? To point out the obvious:
  • It is inconsistent with the tenancy rights of Housing New Zealand tenants. They're allowed house guests or boarders, and Housing New Zealand doesn't get to vet them. So, they're violating their tenancy agreements with their tenants and acting as despots.
  • It is prima facie inconsistent with Housing New Zealand's duties under s24(b) of the Bill of Rights Act, which states that everyone charged with an offence "shall be released on reasonable terms and conditions unless there is just cause for continued detention". While this is normally the duty of the courts and police, as an arm of the executive, Housing New Zealand must also act so as to give effect to this right. Pretty obviously, its not.
  • It may also be inconsistent with the right to be free from discrimination on the basis of employment status or disability, insofar as it results in those groups (or people with relatives in those groups) receiving worse treatment from the courts as a result of Housing New Zealand practices.
And all of these are legally actionable and potentially impose significant liability on the government. And those who have been victimised by this collusion need to sue, because clearly state agencies won't obey the law (and common decency) unless they're taken to the cleaners whenever they break it. We have enshrined the right to bail to prevent the innocent from being unjustly imprisoned while their cases are resolved. Innocent people have almost certainly spent time in jail because of Housing New Zealand's actions, and they need to be compensated. But most importantly, this practice needs to be stopped immediately and those responsible for it sacked. Because apart from being unlawful, it is simply plain fucking wrong to discriminate against the poor in this way because they or their relatives are recipients of state assistance, and to use that fact as leverage to effectively impose a harsher punishment than others would receive.