Search Bill Progresses – No Agreement on SFO

by Editor on Tuesday, March 20, 2012 — 9:34 PM

Debate over the Search and Surveillance Bill continued on Tuesday night, but Labour and National were unable to reach agreement on the controversial bill.

The bill arose out of a Law Commission report that said legislation relating to the search and surveillance powers of authorities was in need of an overhaul.

A bill introduced in 2008 was discharged and in 2009 another bill (though identical in content) was introduced, but made slow progress.

Then in August 2011 the Supreme Court ruled the police had illegally used hidden cameras to gather evidence in the Operation 8 case which centred around the 2007 Urewera raids.

Following this National and Labour could not agree on a permanent legislative response and instead agreed on an interim law which the Government said was necessary to ensure ongoing police investigations could continue.

This law expires in April and the House debated today the bill which replaces that legislation as well as covering wider issues.

Labour’s Charles Chauvel said tonight the Government had moved to meet some of his party’s concerns, but not enough for it support the bill.

Chauvel said bill as it was reported from select committee would have allowed the police to get a warrant and seize material from the media and the media could then apply to a district court judge to protect their sources.

Chauvel said the Government was now moving amendments that the material seized by police would now be held by the courts until a High Court Judge decided whether a journalist’s source should be protected.

Journalistic privilege was better protected, but Labour was not happy that the Serious Fraud Office were not covered, he said.

David Parker underlined Labour’s concerns that the SFO did not have to get a warrant from the courts to search and seize documents and said they would continue to oppose the bill

Justice Minister Judith Collins said she welcomed Labour’s input and attempt to reach agreement.

She said fears that police could release information seized in searches on media were incorrect and they could not compel a journalist to tell them their source unless a judge ordered them to do so.

Collins said the non-inclusion of the Serious Fraud Office was because it had never been part of the bill as it was drafted when the last Labour Government had been planning to disband the SFO.
The chain of events had meant that it was not possible to include the SFO in the bill at this stage without the issue going before a select committee.

The SFO law had been in place for many years and the issue of the SFO demanding papers off the media had only come up once (with the National Business Review last year).

The SFO’s production examination powers were “fairly refined’’ and did not apply to the general public as police warrants did, she said.

Labour’s Lianne Dalziel said the SFO regularly used its powers and they should be some oversight of them.

Despite Labour’s disapproval National will pass the bill with support from ACT and United Future.

The bill completed its committee stage by 61 to 59 with National, ACT and United Future supporting and was reported with amendment.

MPs began the second reading debate on the stage of the Regulatory Reform Bill and Regulatory Reform (Repeals) Bill, with debate interupted when the House rose at 10pm.
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