Retrospective legislation 'human rights danger'

Passing retrospective legislation to legalise covert video surveillance by police could endanger New Zealand's international record on human rights, Parliament has been told.

The justice and electoral select committee is hearing submissions on the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill.

The Government says the controversial urgent legal patch is needed because a Supreme Court ruling on the Urewera terror trials means 40 prospective trials and 50 police operations are at risk.

The Human Rights Commission today said the current law adequately addressed current cases and investigations but it understood the Government's desire to change the law following the Supreme Court ruling.

However, Chief Human Rights Commissioner David Rutherford said it was unnecessary to legislate retrospectively because Section 30 of the Evidence Act would give courts discretion to allow covert video evidence in cases of serious criminal offending.

''Retrospective law offends a basic principle of justice. A series of such cases could damage New Zealand's reputation as a leader in human rights.''

The Bill is being opposed by the Green, Maori and Mana parties and only United Future has given it full support.
Labour wants the Bill to contain measures in the Search and Surveillance Bill which has been before Parliament since 2009 and has already been considered by a select committee.

Privacy Commissioner Marie Shroff said covert video surveillance was by its nature a serious invasion of privacy but there were circumstances where it was justified in the wider public interest.

However, she said it was unsatisfactory to allow the practice in an unregulated manner as provided under the Bill.

The Bill should introduce a temporary warrant system for covert video surveillance, she told the committee.

''This would be a stopgap measure to give Parliament the opportunity to debate the Search and Surveillance Bill.''

The select committee is using a truncated process to consider the Bill to enable it to be passed before Parliament rises for the election on October 6.

It will report report back to Parliament on Monday.

Related story: Video-surveillance bill criticised

The Dominion Post