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Cannabis ruling proves cops need to clean up act

15 February 2002

Cannabis ruling proves cops need to clean up their act - Nandor

Green MP Nandor Tanczos hailed a judgement released today in a cannabis possession case in Auckland as an important legal finding for civil rights in New Zealand.

In the Auckland District Court today Judge JP Gittos threw out charges against Chris Fowlie who was searched and arrested by police in June last year for the possession of 0.7 grams of cannabis, on the grounds that police action in searching him was contrary to the Bill of Rights.

"The finding says that if the police approach a person for no good reason, even if they claim they smelt cannabis, that is not legal grounds for a search," said Nandor.

Mr Fowlie, who is President of the National Organisation for the Reform of Marijuana Laws (NORML), was talking with a friend on the street when a Team Policing Unit approached him and, when he refused to turn out his pockets for two constables, searched him.

In his 10 page judgement Judge Gittos said: 'In the case before me there was no evidence to indicate to the police that the Defendant and his companion were doing or contemplating anything illegal... There was no reason at all to approach these two men and require them to give some account of themselves. In my judgement it was unreasonable to do so.'

Judge Gittos went on to say: 'The circumstances overall leave an uncomfortable perception that the conduct of what Constable Hoshek described as a "sweep" by a Team Policing Unit may involve Officers engineering opportunities to conduct personal searches of persons minding their own business in a public street at random or on a purely speculative basis. It needs hardly be said that such conduct would manifestly contravene the provisions of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.'

"This judgement is a major challenge to the police practice of targeting and searching certain members of the public for no good reason and throws these trumped up charges out as a result," said Nandor.

"This is a significant judgement. Justice Gittos has clearly stated that police behaviour was unacceptable and confirmed what I have been saying - that police in this country routinely and arbitrarily stop and search people for no reason other than how they look," he said.

"President of the Police Association Greg O'Connor told the Health Select Committee that this was the case last year but has since tried to backtrack on his words. The courts have now acknowledged that this is in fact a reality and have said that people have a right to peacefully mind their own business without being harassed by police."

Nandor said this case had cost the State many thousands of dollars when police should be putting their supposedly scarce resources towards solving real crimes.

"I expect the police to review their practice manual and I will follow this with interest. I am also renewing my calls for an inquiry into police use of their search and seizure powers."

ENDS

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