Police seek court law change
Police want a law change so undercover officers can give evidence in court on a wider range of offences without revealing their identity.
The anonymity of undercover officers is protected in court only if the case in which they are testifying carries at least seven years' jail or involves organised criminal groups.
Police believe that needs to change and have written to the Law Commission, which is reviewing the Evidence Act. The act governs what information can be put before courts in criminal and civil trials. Police want the commission to recommend that the Government change the act to give undercover police greater protection by lowering the sentencing threshold.
"The current identity protection scheme ... is designed for the investigation of serious crime, usually involving organised criminal groups," police strategy, policy and performance general manager Kevin Kelly said in a submission to the commission obtained by The Press under the Official Information Act.
"However, the legislation hinders police's prosecution of lesser offending detected by undercover officers whilst on deployment."
Kelly said police needed to take action against the lesser offending.
"Offences related to firearms and assaults are particularly important if detected by undercover officers in the course of deployment.
"These offences fall outside the current seven-year imprisonment threshold and in many cases the evidence of an undercover officer is crucial to the success of a prosecution."
Kelly said undercover officers were often assaulted or witnessed assaults while on deployment. They were unable to give evidence in these cases, with their identity protected, because the offences did not meet the identity protection threshold.
Current law covered homicides and serious violence, such as wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm, but not offences such as assault with a weapon or aggravated assault.
Kelly said in cases where an undercover officer was the victim of an assault, there had been instances where the Crown had been forced to lay a more serious charge, rather than a lesser one that would be easier to prove and possibly more suitable, to protect the officer's identity.
Police Association vice-president Luke Shadbolt said it was critical that offences detected during the course of undercover operations were brought before the courts.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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