Legalising covert police filming

at Stuff reported:

The Government will overrule a decision by New Zealand’s highest on the Urewera terror raids – using legislation to be rushed through under urgency next week.

Last week the Supreme ruled the warrants that police relied on to gain access to land did not cover planting secret cameras.

It meant evidence was improperly obtained and led to charges against 13 of 18 people arrested in the 2007 raids being thrown out.

The judgment recommended Parliament change the law and criticised it for not addressing the problem earlier.

Which I guess is what they are now doing.

First of all can I recommend you read Andrew Geddis for a factual, non-hysterical, explanation of the situation.

I said on radio that this is a classic case of the Government being damned if they do, and damned if they don’t. If they do nothing, then the ability of the Police to detect and prevent crime is seriously impacted. And as I understand it this is not about the Police being able to film whomever they want. They would still need a warrant issued by a Judge or court.

I think few would dispute that the Police should be able to film suspected criminals, if they are able to get a warrant to do so. And as this issue has been before Parliament for a couple of years, I don’t have a problem with a law change before the election, but I do agree with some of what Labour has said:

Labour says:

Labour wants a select committee to scrutinise retrospective legislation to allow secret filming on private property by police.

Leader Phil Goff said his party would only agree to support the law if the Government can make a case for urgency.

National wanted to push the bill through all its stages next week but they needed Labour to agree. Select committee hearings could delay that at least a week.

Parliament has just two sitting weeks before November’s election.

”The bottom line is it must go through a select committee process,” Goff said. ”It needs to have expert opinion, we need to have the Law Commission, we need to have the Law Society, the other players in this game, able to comment.”

He added: ”We haven’t seen the law yet, we haven’t seen the bill, and I’m not going to support anything I haven’t seen.”

This doesn’t strike me as unreasonable, and achievable. You could do first reading on Tuesday 27 Sep and refer to Law & Order Select Committee (or Justice & Electoral) for hearings on Wednesday and the Select Committee reports back before the following Tuesday 4 October at which stage you do second reading, committee of the whole stage and third reading under urgency.

The other issue is should the law change be retrospective. The Government would argue (and I tend to agree) that the intent of Parliament has always been that the Police should be able to film crime suspects if they get a warrant, and they are just making it explicit. However there is a strong counter-argument that the Police have known the legal authority to do video surveillance was less than clear, and the Police should have stopped getting warrants for video surveillance. However I think that argument relies somewhat on hindsight – it was not inevitable how the Supreme would rule – and it was a narrow 3:2 decision.

So this law change is not about giving the Police the ability to film whomever they want. It is about whether warrants they obtain from Judges should be restricted to audio surveillance only, or whether we can join the 20th century (let alone the 21st) and do video surveillance also.

But the details of the law change should be made public as soon as possible, and while it will be tight, I think every effort should be made to allow for expedited select committee hearings.

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