The New South Wales Government introduced a bill to parliament, which, if passed, would constitute one of the most horrifying attacks on ordinary people’s rights, and most sinister overreaches of police power the state has seen.
The Baird Government is trying to introduce ‘Serious Crime Prevention’ orders which would see people face strict curfews, bans on their employment and restrictions on their movement without ever being found guilty of an offence.
Citizens of NSW only have to be alleged of having some proximity or involvement to a serious crime for the control order to applied to them.
The bill would grant police the power to cut off your internet, terminate you from your job, tell you who can associate with, and where you can go if they think you have some association with a “serious” crime.
These “serious crimes” can range from anything as minor as theft, possession of a cannabis plant or illegal gambling to major offences like homicide, kidnapping and extortion.
They are essentially the same laws used for a terror suspect, but they can be applied to any innocent person in New South Wales without their chance at a proper criminal trial.
Why should you be worried?
If the police, who are often wrong, believe you were in some way connected to a crime, they can impose all of these restrictions on your life without having to prove it beyond a reasonable doubt.
One of the most concerning parts of the legislation is that it can apply to a range of potentially completely innocent people.
As the NSW Bar Association explained, it’s not just for people convicted of the crime – it’s anyone that’s seen to “facilitate” it, which is a very vague term.
You could even get done for simply lending your phone or car to a friend who uses it for a criminal act.
What’s even more sinister is that there’s also basically no reasonable way to appeal the control order once you cop it.
You can only prove it by way of ‘legal error’, which means it’s not a matter of proving whether you’re innocent or not, you have to prove the police didn’t apply the procedure properly.
You could theoretically show them hard evidence that you weren’t even in the country but if the police followed procedure, then you’re just gonna have to suck it up, princess.
And let’s say your friend is acquitted of the crime – astonishingly, the police can still seek a control order against you – completely flying in the face of the tenets of the justice system.
Ah, and if you breach any of your control order, you could be sentenced to five years in the slammer or forced to cough up $33,000 for a fine.
Everyone’s furious, obviously
The NSW Bar Association, who represents the state’s barristers, was absolutely ropable at the proposed new laws.
“The NSW Government’s Crimes Bill 2016 … constitutes an unprecedented attack on individual freedoms and the rule of law,” the association’s president Neil Hutley SC said.
“The potential for unwarranted interference in individuals liberties and their day to day lives is extreme,” Mr Hutley said.
The Bar’s scathing submission said the law “potentially endangers the liberties of tens of thousands of (law-abiding) NSW citizens” and said the government had shown no valid reason to expand the powers in a way that’s “so contradictory to long-settled principles concerning the adjudication of criminal guilt by a fair trial”.
In response, Police Minister Troy Grant’s spokesperson said, “the NSW Liberals and Nationals government makes no apology for getting tough on people engaged in serious and organised crime who deal off the misery of others.”
The problem here is that there is a very big and important difference between getting “tough on crime” and trampling all over your inalienable rights.
It stomps all over the presumption of innocence, puts the powers we entrust in our judges and criminal system into the hands of the police and the Bar even hinted it could violate the Constitution.
It gives police a terrifying amount of control over your life without your chance to present your case at a criminal trial, and even if they’re found to be wrong – there’s almost nothing you can do.
The law should be tough on crime, but that doesn’t mean it should treat the innocent like criminals.