20 Sep 2011

Attorney-General defends covert filming law change

10:19 pm on 20 September 2011

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says the Government's decision to pass retrospective legislation that would allow police to use covert video surveillence is not an assault on the rule of law.

The Government says it will pass legislation next week in response to a Supreme Court ruling that the use of hidden cameras in the 2007 Urewera police raids was illegal.

Since the ruling, police have suspended covert video surveillance, which Prime Minister John Key says has potentially significant implications for law and order and is not acceptable to the Government.

The Maori Party has accused the Government of panic over the plan for Parliament to go into urgency next week to pass a temporary legal fix to allow the police to resume the use of video surveillance.

Mr Finlayson says the legislation would allow police to use covert video evidence in about 50 ongoing investigations.

He told Morning Report the situation will be temporary until the next parliament can look at the legislation in detail.

"We're not interfering with presumptions of innocence. What we're saying is that we're freezing law at a particular time for a particular period so that Parliament can look at this very serious issue in the context of the search and surveillance legislation."

However, a barrister specialising in public law and civil litigation, Grant Illingworth, told Nine to Noon the urgent legislation would threaten the right to be free from unreasonable search and seizure.

Mr Illingworth says the Government is treating the Bill of Rights too lightly.

Criminal defence lawyer Paul Keegan says police need to explain what the cases are that require such urgency. He says the legisation is something that should be considered carefully and not rushed through Parliament.

A Tuhoe leader, Tamati Kruger, says says the proposed law change is unsporting and appears to be a desperate move to make people look guilty one way or another.

Police Association president Greg O'Connor says, though, that the proposed legislative change is simply allowing the law to catch up to technology.

He says the legislation will give juries and judges the best evidence possible to make an informed decision in criminal cases.

Select committee process needed - Labour

Labour leader Phil Goff says his party is not about to let criminals off the hook, and agrees the problem must be addressed.

But he says Labour won't support a bill it hasn't seen, and if there is to be legislation, it must go through some sort of select committee process.

"I've seen too much of urgency in this house where Parliament rushes stuff through, doesn't think it through, creates more problems than it solves."

Mr Goff says it is still possible the Bill could be introduced next week, be referred to a select committee and then passed into law the following week.

The Maori Party has said it cannot support knee-jerk legislation to make the police's unlawful behaviour lawful, while the Greens say the use of urgency is offensive in all but the most exceptional of cases.

As well as finding the use of hidden cameras illegal, the Supreme Court also said police trespassed on land owned by Maori tribe Tuhoe to obtain the evidence.

Illegally obtained evidence resulted in the Crown dropping charges against 13 people arrested in the raids over alleged military-style training camps in the Urewera National Park.

The law is likely to be passed next week so that covert footage in 40 court cases and 50 ongoing investigations is not compromised.