Thursday, November 07, 2013

Innocent on defence with Bill

The Tasmanian Government should abandon the Bill to introduce unexplained wealth laws.

The new law will not catch the crooks, but has a strong chance of trapping innocent people.

It was once famously noted the "one golden thread" throughout the centuries of common law is the onus of proof lies with the accusers.

As early as 1471 jurists noted the law would "prefer 20 guilty men to escape through mercy, than one innocent to be condemned unjustly".

The burden of proof and the right to silence helped to ensure the innocent were protected.

The Crime (Confiscation of Profits) Amendment (Unexplained Wealth) Bill 2013 will bring in sweeping new laws that would allow the state to confiscate private property.

The legislation plans to fight organised crime, hitting them where it hurts:  their wallet.

If you cannot explain your "wealth", the state will forcibly take your assets.

These powers come at a cost though:  Tasmanians' legal rights.  The rule of law has been shoved aside to chase those who move in the underworld.

The power will give the police a wide net which could all too easily punish those who are simply in the wrong place at the wrong time.

You will be forced to prove your property was legally acquired.

This is clearly reversing the onus of proof.

This puts the defendant in an impossible situation.

The police do not have to do the leg work of proving alleged criminal activity;  instead you have the hard task of producing statements, deeds or any other potentially damning document.

The accused is already on the back foot, working up from the assumption they are guilty until proven innocent.

Too bad if you are a small business owner without the paperwork and lawyers ready at hand;  the police will seize first and ask questions later.

Then there is the removal of the right to silence.

Not only are the authorities assuming your guilt, you are not even allowed to keep quiet until you have a chance to figure out what is going on or until you have managed to find a lawyer.

Any "evidence" that the police or courts demand have to be presented:  they could be papers, receipts or even clothing.

You have to hand it over;  even if there is a chance it may incriminate you.

Apart from Tasmanians' fundamental legal rights being attacked, the financial and emotional cost to individuals is huge.

All of your worldly possessions are up for grabs — your home, your savings, even your business.

All may be confiscated if you cannot prove that they were legally obtained.

Fair enough, you may be thinking:  criminals do not deserve to profit from their crimes.

However, the reversal of the onus of proof means that anyone could be forced to explain their private affairs, and the only evidence needed to remove your property is the police's suspicion.

Your house or business could be taken away just because someone had a hunch.

And not all property is owned outright, and this poses further problems.

Section 153 of the Bill spells out that if you are unfortunate enough to own property with someone who gets their assets confiscated, your share of the property is taken, too.

Your only hope is that you can stump up the cash quickly enough so you can buy out the accused's share, or that the property is readily "divisible".

Otherwise your hard earned is taken away and there is very little you can do about it.

Organised crime is an awful stain on our community.

The violence and destruction it brings must be combated, but unexplained wealth laws are not the answer.  They simply do not work.

They have been largely unsuccessful in catching major criminals in other states, yet it gives the Government sweeping powers to further intrude in our lives.

Yet now the Tasmanian Parliament wants to remove centuries of legal protections.

Your most valuable possessions are at risk — your house, business and assets.

The stakes are too high:  these laws could leave you homeless, unemployed and without a cent to your name, and all because of a mere suspicion.

The Government should abandon this legislation before it is too late.

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