Back in November 2004, I said:
Earlier this week, the government announced plans to introduce a civil forfeiture regime, giving a new agency the power to use tax information and other data to seize the assets of people who are suspected of gaining from crime committed by or for them. There are stories in the Herald, and on Stuff.
I oppose this proposed regime on a very simple issue of principle: people who are not convicted of a crime should not be punished for something they have not been found to commit.
The bar set using a balance of probabilities approach is, in my view, too low. If you want to destroy someone's life and seize their assets, you'd better make damn sure you have a high standard of evidence backing you up. That high standard, in our justice system, is "beyond reasonable doubt."
This kind of stuff makes me deeply uncomfortable, and is just another tragic example of Labour's insane bidding war with National on criminal justice issues. We have massive growth in prison populations and increases in police numbers, which have little to do with falling crime rates - crime is falling mainly because the economy is booming and fewer people are poor or leading hopeless lives. This sort of thing is simply a response to a political beatup based on the exploitation of people's fear and as such it is deeply abhorrent.
Now I see this is back, care of the news and of blogs like NoRightTurn.
Nothing has changed. The same principles apply. As far as I can make out, the regime proposed back in 04 was amended so it only applied to those convicted. Now they are trying to push it through again, so that people who have not been convicted of anything can have their assets stripped.
It ought to be an offence to benefit from the proceeds of crime. I have no questions about that. Proving it, as with criminal proceedings generally, should be required to be beyond reasonable doubt.
It is not good enough that the agencies of the State be allowed on the balance of probabilities to destroy someone's life. Sorry. If the Crown cannot convict someone of an offence then that should be the end of the story. I frankly do not trust the agencies of the State enough to want to see them with this sort of power.
The explanatory note to the bill does say, to be fair, that the provisions can only be used against proceeds that are derived from significant criminal activity. That is to be defined as activity that would be an offence punishable by 5+ years, or profits of at least $30k.
I guess that to some minds my comments might be seen as typical liberal paranoia. It's not quite that. I actually think liberals (of whom the Cabinet, for example, is largely composed) are posessed of a powerful assumption that everyone else is liberal too. In a liberal world, legislation like this would never be abused. The problem is that there is no guarantee that New Zealand will remain a liberal country, or that the criminal justice system, say under a future National / NZ First government, might not become considerably more conservative. And the prospects of abuse of these provisions would then rise...
I would really really like someone to make a reasoned, rational case why people's rights to due process (BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT) should be trampled by the law like this. I'm buggered if I can work it out on my own. Any takers?