The New Zealand Law Society says legislation to address maritime terrorism risks should ensure that peaceful protest is not inadvertently classified as terrorism.
The Law Society has presented its submission on the Maritime Crimes Amendment Bill to the Foreign Affairs, Defence and Trade select committee.
The bill implements obligations under two maritime counter-terrorism treaties to ensure that New Zealand's maritime security framework can respond to contemporary transnational terrorist threats. It introduces new offences, including offences relating to maritime terrorism.
Law Society spokesperson Jonathan Orpin told the select committee that terrorism is defined more widely in the bill than in the Terrorism Suppression Act 2002.
"The definition in the Terrorism Suppression Act is more appropriate as it sets a higher threshold that excludes legitimate peaceful protest.
"As a matter of good legislative drafting, the definitions of 'terrorism' should be harmonised unless the bill is intended to cover a wider scope of activities than those covered by the Terrorism Suppression Act," he says.
The Law Society recommends that the bill specifically allows a 'peaceful protest' exclusion, as the Terrorism Suppression Act does, to ensure that the bill does not inadvertently criminalise legitimate peaceful protest.
"The right to peaceful protest is a fundamental right in a democratic society and that should be expressly protected," he says.
The Law Society also recommends an amendment so that accidents during maritime protests qualify as a terrorism offence only where the ship was used with the intention of causing death, serious injury or damage.
"As the bill is currently drafted, if an accident occurs during a peaceful maritime protest and the result is that someone dies or is seriously injured, a terrorism offence has been committed. The Law Society doubts this is the intended effect, and recommends this is clarified," Mr Orpin says.