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Law Society welcomes changes to Terrorist Fighters Bill

The New Zealand Law Society has welcomed the changes to the Countering Terrorist Fighters Legislation Bill recommended by the Foreign Affairs Defence and Trade select committee.

“We are pleased that the more extreme elements of the bill have been pulled back. Many of the recommendations in our submission have been taken on board,” Law Society President Chris Moore says.

“In particular we support the shortening of the period the law will be in force, increased safeguards for visual surveillance by the SIS, and the halving of time limits for warrantless searches, as well as increased safeguards.

“The Law Society remains deeply concerned at the parliamentary procedure used to progress this bill. The unnecessary rush has impaired the scrutiny given to this bill. This is a bad way to make law,” Mr Moore says.

In its submission on the bill, the Law Society acknowledged its generally careful balance but said some provisions substantially interfered with human rights.

It urged the select committee to consider how some of the powers could be reduced without imperilling the objective at which they are aimed.

“The Law Society is asking Parliament to give full weight to the human rights dimension in its consideration of the Bill, consistent with the United Nations Security Council Resolution 2178,” Law Society spokesperson Dr Andrew Butler said.

The Law Society submission suggested reduction of powers in a number of areas, as follows:

  • the length of time for passport denial and related issues should be reduced to a total of three years;
  • the provisions relating to visual surveillance by the SIS need amendment and the safeguards should be increased;
  • warrantless emergency surveillance should be limited to 24 hours and the test for carrying it out strengthened to make the threshold higher; and
  • the sunset provisions should be amended so the temporary law expires on 1 October 2016 rather than 1 April 2018 as proposed. 

Law Society perplexed by IRD Police information-sharing proposal

The New Zealand Law Society says it is perplexed that the Inland Revenue Department appears to be willing to proactively offer tax information to the Police.

In a response to IRD-proposed remedial amendments to its Information Sharing Agreement with the New Zealand Police, the Law Society says sharing information as provided for in the Agreement is a fundamental departure from the longstanding position that tax information will be secret except for tax-related disclosure.

It says it remains opposed to the concept of IRD sharing tax information with the Police relating to “serious crimes” for reasons it set out in a submission to IRD in May 2013. Using taxpayer information for non-tax purposes unjustifiably limits taxpayers’ fundamental rights and undermines the integrity of the tax system, the Law Society says.

“In light of the range of concerns outlined in 2013, the Law Society is surprised (and disappointed) that the information sharing proposals have proceeded essentially unchanged,” the response to the latest proposed changes says.

“The Law Society is perplexed that the IRD is willing to go further than simply responding to a Police request on reasonable grounds, and proactively to offer information to the Police.”

The Law Society recommends that the IRD give serious consideration to putting some basic parameters around what information will be able to be proactively shared. At a minimum, it says, information gained by compulsion should be excluded.

Criminal legal aid provider shortages predicted

Lawyers who provide criminal legal aid are concerned at the overall economic viability of legal aid work and believe this will lead to a shortage of criminal lawyers in the long term.

This is one of the key findings from a New Zealand Law Society survey of criminal legal aid providers. The survey was held nearly 18 months after implementation of the criminal legal aid fixed fees and was initiated to provide information for a Ministry of Justice review. There were 259 responses to the survey.

In comments provided to the Ministry of Justice, the Law Society says providers said there would need to be a substantial across-the-board increase in the criminal legal aid fixed fees for them to be considered reasonable. “Many providers expressed serious concern about their inability to run their practices on the current fees,” the Law Society says.

“A large number of providers expressed concern for the future and long-term viability of private providers working at the criminal bar, and that this would leave a significant gap in the number of private criminal lawyers and criminal legal aid providers in years to come.

“They expressed significant concern at their inability to take on juniors and that this would lead to shortages in the long term.”

The Law Society says the difficulty of running a financially viable criminal practice is putting significant pressure on lawyers working in the area. It says many are stressed and have expressed negativity and concern about their future in the criminal law.

“The morale of criminal legal aid providers appears to be very low,” the Law Society concludes.

Responsible Lending Code format welcomed

The New Zealand Law Society says it welcomes the clear and easy to follow structure of the draft Responsible Lending Code prepared by the Ministry of Business, Innovation and Employment.

In comments sent to the Ministry, the Law Society says it believes the draft Code will greatly improve protection of consumers, promote their confident and informed participation in credit markets, and promote and facilitate fair, efficient and transparent credit markets.

“It achieves this through an appropriate balance of lenders’ obligations and borrowers’ responsibilities,” the Law Society says.

The Law Society suggests that the online version of the Code should allow for drop downs and click-throughs where appropriate, so that the draft Code is “more digestible” to online readers.

It says that overall the draft Code strikes an appropriate balance between consumer protection, certainty for lenders and minimising compliance costs.

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