Jade's killing spurs rethink
The Government could set up a public register of serious criminals deported from Australia, under drastic planned law changes to improve trans-Tasman information sharing.
The murder of Christchurch teenager Jade Bayliss has "really focused everyone's minds" on ensuring the new law becomes a reality, Justice Minister Judith Collins told The Press last night.
She believed some political parties would not support the change, but was confident it would become law.
"Frankly do we want to have kids killed like Jade or do we not?"
The change would allow information held by the Australian authorities and used for border control to be given to New Zealand police. That includes criminals' convictions.
At present, New Zealand police are told only that an offender is being deported from Australia, but they are not told of his/her criminal convictions.
If they want that information, they have to request it through Interpol.
Unless there is a serious threat to life, police cannot pass on an offender's history, even if a member of the public asks for it.
Collins' plan will go further. Officials will be asked to decide whether information on criminals should be made available on request to the public, or through an open register of serious offenders.
Discussions about the potentially life-saving new legislation have already been held between officials in Australia and New Zealand and it will be presented to cabinet "in the near future", Collins said. However, she warned that it could take a long time to get through Parliament.
Documents reveal a list of pros and cons for making the details about serious criminals publicly available.
A public register could impact on an individual's right to a fair trial if information about previous offences could be accessed.
However, that was countered by the potential for improved public safety.
The documents also point to legal and privacy issues that would need to be considered before information could be made publicly available.
Jade's mother, Tina Bayliss, said last night she was pleased to hear about the planned changes and vowed to help make them a reality. "If I can prevent this from happening to other families I will do it," she said.
The Sensible Sentencing Trust has campaigned for a Government-run serious offender register since the organisation started its own database over a decade ago.
Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money last night said the changes should be pushed through urgently. "This is potentially life-saving. It's long overdue."
Last month The Press revealed Bayliss approached police with concerns about Jeremy George McLaughlin, 35, four days before he strangled her 13-year-old daughter Jade and torched their Barrington St home in November 2011.
She was unaware McLaughlin spent time in jail for killing Perth teenager Phillip Vidot in 1995 before he was deported back to New Zealand in 2001.
She was given trespass papers to serve against McLaughlin if he showed up at her home.
However, police were unable to tell her the details of the killer's past because of constraints about what they can reveal about a person's criminal history.
Bayliss has pledged to campaign for better access to information about serious criminals.
Collins said officials had been working on the new legislation for a while, but "clearly Jade's case is something that has really focused everyone's minds on it".
"If you can Google something and it's in open court and there's no suppression I have no idea why people can't access the information."
Senior police and Government officials from Australia and New Zealand met regularly and the planned changes had been discussed, she said. Changes to Australian laws surrounding international information sharing come into force in April 2014.
CURRENT TRANS-TASMAN INFORMATION SHARING
Currently Australian Immigration authorities notify New Zealand Police when a New Zealander is deported because their visa is revoked on good character grounds (a conviction of two years imprisonment or more).
The immigration authorities do not pass on criminal history information. This is held by an agency called Crimtrac for all Australian states.
To get an offender's criminal record, New Zealand Police must make a request through Interpol. Crimtrac then provide the required information.
Information that could be shared between New Zealand police and Australian authorities:
Details of communications interceptions, personal identification details.Intelligence analysis assessments and reports.
Details of known or suspected involvement of people in illicit activities.
Modus operandi of specified people.
General history of specified people.
Past travel movements of specified people.
Known currency and other financial transactions, including involvement in money laundering.
THE GOVERNMENT'S LAW REFORMS
In February, the Privacy Amendment Act was passed allowing information to be disclosed to a member of the public where there is a serious threat to the life or health of that person or another person.
Previously they had only been able to disclose information if there was an imminent threat to life.
The Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill, which is currently waiting its first reading will allow Corrections to be notified when a serious and violent offender returns from another country.
Police would notify the Corrections chief executive who could seek a Public Protection Order from the High Court if there is evidence of a very high risk of imminent serious reoffending.
The High Court could order an offender to be detained indefinitely.
PROS AND CONS
Release of information in public form (eg register):
- Allows public to protect themselves - enhances public safety
- Is preventative in nature
- Information is increasingly able to be accessed on internet anyway through media etc
- Could impact on future trials of individuals if information about previous offences is freely available
- Is conviction always a reliable indicator of future offending? (No assessment or evidence of risk)
- Could be used to discriminate or reduce potential for rehabilitation
- Non-offenders with similar names to offenders could be unjustly targeted
- Likely to be high development and operational costs
Release of information to concerned individuals upon request:
- Allows individuals to protect themselves and those around them - enhances public safety
- Is preventative in nature
- Information is increasingly able to be accessed on internet anyway through media
- Allows checking to ensure non-offenders with the same name are not targeted accidentally
- If individual contacts police there is less likelihood that information will be used maliciously or frivolously
- Could be used for personal vendetta purposes
- No assessment or evidence of risk or potential for harm
- Could result in an unauthorised form of register being created
- May prevent or reduce potential for rehabilitation
- Relies on accessibility of information and the judgement of individual/agency releasing information
- © Fairfax NZ News
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