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Officials slam new civil forfeiture regime

24 November, 2004

Govt’s own officials slam new civil forfeiture regime

The Government should follow advice contained in its own Cabinet papers and reject proposed changes to Proceeds of Crime legislation, the Green Party says.

“The Cabinet papers illustrate that the Government is ignoring impartial advice in order to pursue a dangerous course,” Green Justice Spokesperson Nandor Tanczos said. “This is a fundamentally unfair law, and the Government knows it because its advisors have told it so.”

Cabinet papers published in media reports this morning show that senior Government advisors are highly critical of civil forfeiture laws announced yesterday by Justice Minister Phil Goff.

“The proposals call into question the Justice Minister’s commitment to basic principles of justice. This is Phil Goff’s second attempt to undermine double jeopardy. Is that to be his legacy as Justice Minister?”

Double jeopardy guarantees that someone acquitted of a crime cannot be tried again for the same crime, and that someone cannot be punished twice for the same crime.

“If the police cannot prosecute someone for a crime, they will now be able to go after that person’s property instead, with a much lower standard of proof. Anyone who cares about the integrity of the justice system should be very concerned.”

The Cabinet papers also warn that the law provides the police with an easier way of penalising potentially criminal conduct than the ordinary criminal process, “creating a perverse incentive to divert police resources away from criminal investigation in favour of civil forfeiture”.

Nandor said that his discussions with Home Office officials and senior police during a visit to the UK in May indicated that British police resources were being diverted away from criminal investigation towards asset seizure.

“Policing in the UK is now measured not by crime reduction, but by how much money is seized. Even more perverse incentives are being devised to ensure law enforcement focuses on chasing the money rather than convicting criminals. That is not a path New Zealand should follow.”


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