Audrey Young

Audrey Young is the New Zealand Herald’s political editor.

Labour wants SFO to come under Surveillance Bill

Charles Chauvel. File photo / Ross Setford
Charles Chauvel. File photo / Ross Setford

Labour last night pleaded a case for the powers of the Serious Fraud Office to come under the auspices of the Search and Surveillance Bill along with all other law enforcement agents of the state.

It wants the SFO to have to apply to a court like other agencies for a production order, that demands to see evidence, and an examination order that requires people to answer questions.

MP Charles Chauvel said its omission from the bill was an anomaly and it should be rectified.

The only reason the SFO has not been included in the original bill, drafted under Labour, was that Labour had planned to merge the police and the SFO.

National ditched the merger plans and have given the police the same powers production and examination orders - although unlike the SFO, the police must get the approval of a court - and left the powers of the SFO unfettered.

Justice Minister Judith Collins has told Labour in a letter that she will be discussing with SFO Minister Anne Tolley "the prospect of reviewing the powers of the Serious Fraud Office and how they are exercised."

The SFO had also been required to record in its annual report the number of examination orders made each year; and the number of people charged where evidence relevant to the case was significantly helped by an examination order.

The same requirement will be made of police under the legislation.

But that is not enough for Labour and it will oppose the bill, citing the SFO factor, the lack of exemptions for journalistic privilege, and what it sees as low thresholds for allowing production and examination orders.

The Search and Surveillance Bill draws together under one statute the powers that existed under 69 separate laws. It extends production and examination orders to the police and legalises some forms of surveillance such as video surveillance.

A decision of the Supreme Court last year held that police video surveillance in certain circumstances was unlawful. A temporary law legalising such surveillance will expire on April 17 so the new law will take effect from April 18.

The Greens oppose the bill saying it goes too far in eroding rights.

National's Simon Bridges said the SFO deserved extra powers because day in and out it was trying to unravel serious and complex crime.

Speaking in the committee stages last night, Judith Collins highlighted the inclusion of a new purpose clause in the bill by the justice and electoral select committee.

The clause specifically mentions that the bill recognises the importance of the rights and entitlements in other laws including the Bill of Rights Act 1990, the Privacy Act 1993 and the Evidence Act 2006.

"The inclusion of this purpose clause highlights the importance of human rights values in the context of search and surveillance powers," Judith Collins said.

Justice and electoral select committee chairman Tim Macindoe said that while he was mindful of the human rights of law abiding citizens "I dont have a lot of interest in the human rights of those who are not interested in obeying the laws because quite often they threaten our safety, our security, our homes, our elderly, the vulnerable in our society."

Everything that could be done to give law enforcement agents the ability to apprehend them was vital.

- NZ Herald

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