Government will pass temporary legislation suspending the effect of a Supreme Court decision which ruled covert camera surveillance by police unlawful.
The bill will pass next week under urgency, Prime Minister John Key said.
A permanent fix would be included as part of the search and surveillance bill due to pass after the election.
Mr Key said speed was essential because the ruling in the Ureweras case would have jeopardised police investigations.The problem has arisen because, as Chief Justice Elias said in the Supreme Court judgment:
He said the Crown Law Office advised Cabinet it meant almost all use of covert video surveillance was unlawful.
"This has significant implications for law and order in New Zealand."
Parliament has not however provided legislative authority for covert filmed surveillance, despite recommendations that it should do so. The courts cannot remedy the deficiency through approval of police action taken in the absence of lawful authority without destruction of important values in the legal system, to the detriment of the freedoms guaranteed to all.In most functioning democratic societies citizens are protected against breaches of privacy by agencies of the state. Such is still the case in New Zealand, although that is about to change. I haven't seen the proposed legislative "fix", but it sounds as if from next week onwards police will be able to spy on anyone they please. Greg O'Connor must be thrilled.
It is typical of the law and order obsession of recent governments that the need to catch criminals trumps basic civil liberties every time. But why should this be so? Most of us probably don't want to live in a society where agencies of the state are free to spy on citizens. I wonder what other civil liberties we might be prepared to give away if it means nailing the bad guys.
I remain unconvinced that this action is necessary or warranted. For one thing, illegally obtained evidence is not automatically inadmissible. Instead it must be assessed in accordance with section 30 of the Evidence Act 2006. In the case of the Urewera 18, the Supreme Court ruled that the charges faced by some of the accused were serious enough to allow the use of illegally-obtained evidence. So unless all of these trials Crown Law are worried about are for minor matters, it seems likely that for a good many of them the illegally-obtained evidence will still be admissible. Perhaps they are just trying to prevent defendants arguing that civil liberties have been trampled on. Which they have.
While they are at it, why don't they just repeal the Bill of Rights Act? Imagine the cost saving to the taxpayer.
New search and surveillance laws are in the pipeline, and when they eventually pass these will give the police powers to undertake video surveillance. I remain hopeful that such legislation will be properly debated and will contain sensible provisions, and that surveillance will be properly regulated and subject to appropriate judicial supervision. But then I'm just an insufferable liberal.