Govt turns its back on terror law

By Geoff Cumming, Jared Savage

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford

The Government has wiped plans to fix anti-terrorism legislation found wanting when police sought to lay charges carrying a maximum 14-year jail term after the Urewera raids.

Little progress has been made on a review of the Terrorism Suppression Act in the 4 years since the raids, despite scathing criticism of the act at the time by Solicitor General David Collins, QC.

A Law Commission review of the act was put on hold until court action against the 18 people originally charged after the raids was concluded. The review was later dropped from the commission's work programme with the approval of former Justice Minister Simon Power.

With the High Court trial of the "Urewera 4" now over, current Justice Minister Judith Collins says the Government has no plans to dust off the review.

She said the Government had a comprehensive programme of reforms to further reduce crime.

"We have introduced the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, and this week we have passed the Search and Surveillance Bill which is comprehensive reform of search and surveillance powers. We've strengthened bail laws and are looking at ways to do so further, and we've brought in tougher penalties for the worst offenders."

Police wanted to use the terrorism act against 12 of those arrested in the October 2007 raids on more than 30 addresses throughout the country.

But three weeks after the arrests, the Solicitor General ruled out using the act, which he described as "unnecessarily complex, incoherent and as a result almost impossible to apply to the domestic circumstances observed by the police in this case".

While the covert police investigation had uncovered some "very disturbing activities", Dr Collins said that "in my view the evidence fell short of meeting the very technical requirements of the act".

This week a High Court jury was unable to reach a verdict on charges brought under the Crimes Act and carrying a maximum 5-year prison term that the four accused were an "organised criminal group" whose objectives included murder and arson.

The four were found guilty on firearms charges and three of them were also found guilty of possessing molotov cocktails.

Mr Power, now a banker, said yesterday he could not recall why he allowed the review of the act to be dropped. He had made a decision when he left politics last November not to comment about events that occurred while he was in Government.

Former commission president Sir Geoffrey Palmer, whose term expired in December 2010, said the commission found issues with the act when it began preliminary research. He said the decision to remove the review from its work programme was made after his time.

Parliament approved the act in 2002 to bring New Zealand into line with United Nations and other international conventions on terrorism, rather than to counter domestic terrorism. It carried a maximum sentence of 14 years for anyone convicted of planning or preparing to commit a terrorist act.

But the Solicitor General ruled that to lay charges there had to be evidence that:

•The group was trying to advance an ideological, political or religious cause.

•Its intention was to induce terror in a civilian population or force a government to do or abstain from doing any act.

If there was evidence of that, he would also need evidence that each of 12 suspects:

• Was participating in the group.

•Knew the group was a terrorist entity.

•Knew the group participated in carrying out terrorist acts.

• Participated in the group to enhance its ability to carry out terrorist acts.

In the Urewera raids case, Dr Collins said there was insufficient evidence to satisfy the "multiple motives" needed.

Another major issue was that the law focused on a "terrorist entity".

"If individuals are developing towards, possibly ... carrying out a terrorist act, they are not yet [that] entity. So there is a tautology in the legislation which is extremely difficult to unravel."

That did not mean the law required the accused to have committed terrorism, but "you have to be very well down the track".

- NZ Herald

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