An article on the Fairfax Media website yesterday reported that the New Zealand Police had seized over a million dollars of assets from a gang leader that were allegedly the proceeds of crimes for which the Police had not been able to gain a conviction. This struck me as an example of how far our legal system had departed from the principles on which our law was founded.
The Police investigated and prosecuted a gang leader for money laundering, presumably (although the article does not specifically say) in relation to the proceeds of illegal drug sales. They failed to gain a conviction in two trials - the first ended in a hung jury, the second a not guilty verdict - and yet obtained a court order under the so-called Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act to seize the offender's assets. They justified this on the grounds that the gang leader could not produce evidence of a legitimate source of income to account for having the assets. The Police claim to have seized $390 million in assets since 2009 in similar cases.
This law is wrong on so many levels. Firstly, it reverses the presumption of innocence, requiring the accused to prove his assets are not the proceeds of a criminal act. Secondly, it is double jeopardy - having been unable to prove their case against the accused, the Police get a second (or in this case, a third) bite of the apple in bringing criminal sanctions. Thirdly, it is a form of arbitrary justice in which the Police are hardly a neutral party in determining the penalty. These things are all contrary to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law that underlie our legal system and that derive from the English liberal traditions and hard-won constitutional protections dating back to the Magna Carta.
I don't have any personal sympathy for the gang leader in question, who belongs to the notoriously violent Mongrel Mob, but I believe we should judge all laws by the standard of whether they adhere to principles by which we ourselves would want to be judged. There is a very good reason why civilised societies have held to the principles of natural justice and the rule of law and in their absence we would be entirely at the mercy of the whims of politicians, bureaucrats, and their armed enforcers in the Police.
Those who support such powers should ask themselves if they would be able to prove that all their assets came from legitimate sources if the onus was on them to do so.