5 Oct 2011

Changes enable police surveillance bill to proceed

6:01 am on 5 October 2011

Major changes have been made to the Government's covert police surveillance bill which will now will not apply to investigations underway or cases now before the courts.

The Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill allowing police to secretly film suspects is expected to be passed this week after the Government backed down on one of the main reasons it gave for wanting the new legislation.

The Labour and ACT parties have agreed to support the legislation in its new form, meaning the Government now has the backing it needs to pass the bill under urgency before the House rises on Thursday.

The law change was sought after a Supreme Court ruling, made public in August this year, ruled that police acted unlawfully when they secretly filmed people in 2007. The ruling meant charges against 13 of the 17 arrested in the Urewera raids had to be dropped.

Following the court's ruling, Prime Minister John Key said urgent retrospective legislation was needed to side-step it, otherwise dozens of important police investigations would be scuppered.

Opposition from other parties forced the Government to refer the bill to the Justice and Electoral select committee for urgent consideration.

The select committee has watered down the retrospective nature of the bill, meaning evidence gathered so far in the cases referred to by Mr Key will not automatically be deemed lawful.

It has also decided the new law will apply for six months, not the 12 months the Government wanted.

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says there are implications for some cases which have yet to come to court, but the resumption of covert surveillance has taken precedence.

People already been convicted using covert video surveillance evidence will be barred from appealing on the basis of the Supreme Court decision ruling on the legality of such evidence.

The Maori Party and the Greens remain strongly opposed to the legislation.

Surveillance work necessary - Finlayson

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson says police need the powers contained in the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill.

A report presented by Green MP Keith Locke found police video footage is rarely used in court.

But Mr Finlayson told Morning Report on Tuesday that Mr Locke's position is a fringe one and surveillance footage is an indispensable tool in police work.

Labour's justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel says the Government rejected the chance to legislate properly to control police powers.

Mr Chauvel told Morning Report that in November last year, Labour offered to support the Search and Surveillance Bill which would have covered those powers.

The MP said that was ignored, with the Government diverted towards an alternative bill that is mere window-dressing.

Police union view

The Police Association says the Video Camera Surveillance Bill could be unworkable if politicians continue to disagree.

National president Greg O'Connor says discussions on the bill are ongoing and could lead to the legislation being changed.

Mr O'Connor hopes politicians see the folly in not allowing police to use video evidence collected.