The Herald has the news that the Clark Government is about to introduce to parliament this year "a British-style behaviour order to curb anti-social crime."
The proposal, which would establish a scheme for Rotorua [allowing police to issue "community protection orders" against people convicted of a range of mainly property-related offences], has previously been rejected by politicians because its aim - to bar criminals from the city's central business district - had problems complying with the Bill of Rights.
No problem to an MP like Steve Chadwick, the bill's co-sponsor with Annette King, and the main promoter of the ban on smoking in bars -- which has equal difficulties complying with the Bill of Rights.
First of all, we should ask why this law is necessary. Why are people who've been convicted of property-related offences free to walk the streets anyway? Answer: Because the courts don't take burglary and other property-related offences seriously anymore . Is that good enough? No, it sure as hell isn't. Do we need more bad law to fix the result of bad justice? No, our lawmakers should be concentrating instead on fixing these fundamental failures of our justice system that much more urgently need addressing.
Remember that law, good law, is intended to protect me from you and you from me. Specifically, it is intended to protect you against any initiation of force or fraud by me, and me from any initiation of force or fraud by you. That's all good law should do, and when it doesn't do what it should be doing, which in this case is to protect us from criminals who've already been convicted, then we start to see laws like this that start to stretch the boundaries of what good law should be doing.
This works both ways.
There is an expectation that if you violate good law, that you will be handled under due process, and that the punishment will fit the crime. This is all part of what it means to have objective law. This is what freedom looks like. This is what Annette King wants to overturn with what is called in the UK 'Anti-Social Behaviour Orders' (ASBOs), which give police the power to deliver summary justice, and courts the power to turn minor offences into a five-year stay in jail if they're arbitrarily deemed to be anti-social.
She means it. We should take this seriously. If yobs strolling town centres are dangerous enough, then out of control politicians using potentially uncontrollable law to do us over is far more dangerous, since these are the very people who are supposed to protect our rights. Frankly, when it comes to yobs, the ones in the parliament are far more dangerous to our rights than the ones strolling the streets of our cities.
But as I say, it should work both ways. There's also an expectation that when criminals are convicted, then they lose certain rights (after all, if they don't respect them, why should we). In which case, and only if safeguards can be put in place to ensure these orders can be applied to convicted criminals, then the orders could be justified -- but that's a big 'if,' especially with the likes of Steve Chadwick involved, who wouldn't know a proper right if she fell over one in the street.
Now having said all that, you might already have observed that the issue doesn't even arise in the case or privately owned property. This bill is designed to to bar criminals from a city's central business district, and since it requires government action to effect such a ban there are attendant Bill of Rights issues. But just think how it works when a shopping mall wants to bar undesirables from their property . . .
NB: You can read the BBC's ASBO Chronicles to