Act too complex to use, says Collins

Hundreds of pages of intercepted communications relating to alleged terrorist training camps will not be admissible in court, despite Solicitor-General David Collins saying some of it was very disturbing.

The Terrorism Suppression Act is set to be rewritten after Dr Collins branded it incoherent and unworkable, and said it could not be applied to a dozen people caught in last month's raids in the Ureweras.

Attorney-General Michael Cullen has agreed to refer the act to the Law Commission to be rewritten - despite the Government pushing ahead last night with amendments that activists say will make it more draconian.

Dr Cullen defended the amendments proceeding on the grounds that many related to international anti-terrorist obligations, and he noted that Dr Collins had found the act set high thresholds for charges.

But in a damning critique yesterday, Dr Collins said the act was almost impossible to apply to domestic terrorism in New Zealand as it was too complex.

In the case of the Urewera 12, Dr Collins said it would be extremely difficult to apply the act in its current form. His decision came after he examined hundreds of pages of intercepted communications between members of the group and "a large number" of photographs as well as video surveillance.

Because the communications were intercepted using warrants under the act, they can only be used to support charges under that act. The ruling that charges cannot be brought means the evidence will never be made public unless police successfully resubmit a case for terrorism charges.

Dr Collins said it was unlikely interception warrants could have been obtained under another act.

Photographic and video surveillance evidence not obtained under Terrorist Suppression Act warrants can still be used in Arms Act charges against the 12 and four other accused, which Dr Collins signalled was the case.

"I wish also to stress that the police have successfully brought to an end what were very disturbing activities. That the police did so without a single shot being fired, injury or loss of life, is a tremendous reflection on the professionalism and integrity of the New Zealand police," he said.

Deficiencies in the law were very significant in his decision, and had the tests been less severe, charges may have been possible. He said that on one view of the act, several people came close to meeting the criteria for charges.

"The fundamental problem is that the legislation focuses upon an entity that carries out a terrorist act, and if individuals are actually developing towards ... carrying out a terrorist act, they aren't yet an entity that is carrying out a terrorist act, and so there is a tautology in the legislation which is extremely difficult to unravel."

A spokesman for Dr Cullen confirmed the act would be referred to the Law Commission - which advises on legislative changes - as soon as possible.

Amendments, including giving the prime minister the power to review designated terrorist groups, would continue, however. This was because most of the changes related to international obligations signed up to after the 2001 terrorist attacks in the United States.

The amendments were in the last stages of passing last night when Parliament ran out of time.

Wellington