New Zealand Law Society - Greater clarity in new arms legislation sought by Law Society

Greater clarity in new arms legislation sought by Law Society

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How amendments to the Arms Act intersect with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act needs to be carefully considered, the New Zealand Law Society says.

The Law Society has made a submission to the Finance and Expenditure Committee on the second tranche of amendments to the Arms Act 1983. It follows its earlier submission on changes made under the Arms (Prohibited Firearms, Magazines, and Parts) Amendment Act 2019.

The Law Society says it acknowledges the swift action taken to remedy the immediate and obvious defects in the Arms Act 1983. However, it says further consideration of the way in which the new and amended offences intersect with the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act 1990 should be examined.

The Arms Legislation Bill seeks to create several new offences and amend existing ones under the Arms Act, with several provisions in the bill expressly placing the onus on the defendant to establish a defence.

“For example, the offence of carrying an imitation firearm except for a lawful, proper, and sufficient purpose expressly places the onus on the defendant to prove the existence of the lawful, proper and sufficient purpose. This has the potential to criminalise a considerable amount of innocent conduct, given the breadth of the definition of ’imitation firearm’. It is also unclear what a proper or sufficient purpose for carrying one might be,” Law Society Law Reform Committee member Esther Watt said.

“The Law Society suggests these clauses need careful consideration to determine whether the provisions proposed are consistent with the right to be presumed innocent until proven guilty under the Bill of Rights Act,” she said.

The Law Society also addressed the need to resolve sentencing discrepancies. The legislation has been designed so that offences involving prohibited firearms are treated as being more culpable than those involving non-prohibited firearms.

”However, the Bill creates sentences for some offences that do not reflect that principle. For example the maximum penalty for possession of a non-prohibited firearm while committing an offence -section 54(2) is the same maximum penalty as the same offence committed with a prohibited firearm under the amended - section 53A(2),” Esther Watt said.

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