Attorney-General Chris Finlayson has defended the Government's quest to push through an urgent law next week to allow secret filming on private property by police.

The move come after the Supreme Court ruled that evidence from covert filming on Maori land in the Ureweras was unlawfully obtained.

That resulted in police dropping charges against 13 of the accused from the 2007 raids on what they claimed were military training camps.

Four defendants still face charges after the court ruled they were serious enough to warrant using unlawfully gathered evidence.


The change would be a short-term measure until the Search and Surveillance Bill was passed in the next term of government.

That bill has provisions - including the need for warrants - for secret filming on private property in serious cases, including arms offences.

Mr Finlayson told Radio New Zealand the measure would not interfere with the presumption of innocence, nor was it "making the unlawful lawful".

"This is an urgent situation. We do not have time, given the fact that Parliament is going to rise for the 26 November election, to pass the Search and Surveillance Bill through all its stages.

"That's a very complex piece of legislation, this is a very directed piece of legislation to address the issues arising out of the Supreme Court's decision."

While Mr Finlayson said the legislation would allow police to use covert video evidence in about 50 ongoing investigations, it would not affect the Urewera decision.

Prime Minister John Key says that without the change, some "very serious criminals" will go free.

The Crown Law Office had advised that almost all covert filming by police was now unlawful, and the decision could affect up to 40 pending trials and more than 50 police operations.


Police had halted all covert filming until the law is changed.

Mr Key said the police and the Government had believed police were legally entitled to use covert measures to gather film evidence. But the Supreme Court ruling showed there was a need to clarify the law.

Lawyer and Labour candidate Michael Bott - who initially represented one of the Urewera accused - said the change legalised actions the police had known were unlawful.

"The police regard this Government as a canteen that never shuts. They can just roll up to the counter and the Government will hand over what they ask for."

Police Association head Greg O'Connor said it was an "essential" change because the Supreme Court ruling could derail significant work by the police.

"The fact the Government has acted quickly and is prepared to use retrospective legislation shows how serious the implications of the ruling are."

Mr Key said he could not yet say whether National had enough support for the legislation to pass.

The Government had briefed other parties yesterday.

"If we can't get the numbers, that would mean there would be some very, very serious criminals who would not be brought to justice."

The Urewera four who still face charges - Emily Felicity Bailey, Tame Wairere Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara and Urs Peter Signer - will face trial by jury in February.