Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson today welcomed the Justice and Electoral Select Committee’s report to Parliament recommending the Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill be passed as a priority.
Passing the Bill will mean Police are able to resume operations involving covert video surveillance of serious offenders. All police covert video surveillance on private property was halted following a Supreme Court decision on 2 September that almost all such operations were illegal.
The select committee report supports the Government’s approach of temporarily preserving the law as it was understood before 2 September.
“Our priority is to pass this legislation this week to allow the Police to resume video surveillance operations in investigations of serious offending,” Mr Finlayson said. Parliament rises this week and will not sit again until after the election.
“There is cross-party support for the Police to have appropriate surveillance powers to investigate serious criminal activity,” he said. “The Bill preserves the position as it was understood by successive governments and the Police, that covert video surveillance in an otherwise lawful search was not illegal.”
The Video Camera Surveillance (Temporary Measures) Bill expresses Parliament’s intent that any otherwise lawful search involving covert video surveillance should not be unlawful just because of the use of video surveillance.
The Bill will expire after six months, during which time new legislation to regulate search and surveillance can be passed.
The bill does not provide any legal power that did not exist before the Supreme Court decision of 2 September to use covert video surveillance.
The Courts will retain the power to exclude video surveillance evidence that has been obtained unreasonably and in violation of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act’s protections against unreasonable search and seizure.
The substantive change recommended by the committee are:
• Reducing the duration of the temporary legislation’s “sunset clause” from 12 to six months;
• Barring appeals based on the Supreme Court’s decision for those already convicted using covert video surveillance evidence;
• Stipulating covert video surveillance collected before the enactment of the Bill will be judged on its admissibility according to the Supreme Court’s decision, rather than the provisions of the Bill.
Mr Finlayson said the Government would support the committee’s recommendations.
“The Government’s preference was for a Bill that validated video surveillance evidence gathered by Police in good faith prior to the Supreme Court’s decision,” Mr Finlayson said. “Other parties, however, preferred not to support that measure. This will have implications for some cases that are yet to come before the Court, but the urgent interest in resuming video surveillance and turning the cameras back on has taken precedence.”
“The committee has however recommended preventing appeals based solely on the Supreme Court’s decision by those who have already been convicted using covert video surveillance evidence.”
The Bill is expected to receive its second and third readings on Thursday.