ODT on Search and Surveillance Bill

The ODT editorial:

There has been a good deal of fuss made about the possible consequences of the Government’s decision to implement a Bill based on the Law Commission’s 2007 report “Search and Surveillance Powers”. Many fears have been raised about what the legislation might mean were it to be implemented and, according to some interpretations, enforced to the letter.

The first point that needs to be made is that the Clark Labour government actually introduced a Search and Surveillance Powers Bill last year; this has been withdrawn and a substitute Bill introduced which includes powers being granted to a wider range of law enforcement and regulatory agencies, including the Inland Revenue Department, the Ministry of Fisheries, and the Reserve Bank.

Both National and Labour have supported the law changes to date.

The Government argues the new Bill will provide a coherent, consistent, and certain approach, and claims it will balance law enforcement and human rights. Those who have expressed opposition say it gives far too much power to the bureaucracy, which should be restrained by independent authority such as the courts. They are correct. The powers granted by the Bill are excessively broad.

They apply a one size fits all model, when it is inappropriate.

For people who have been under the impression that one of the principles of our criminal law is the right to remain silent, this Bill proposes a challenge, since agencies of the State are to be given an examination power – available now only to the Serious Fraud Office – to compel a person to answer relevant questions when “reasonable grounds” exist to suspect that a crime punishable by imprisonment has been committed or will be committed and that the suspect has evidential material – a compulsion order subject in most but not all circumstances to the approval of a judge.

Another angle that hasn’t been well publicised.

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