Legal Beagle by Graeme Edgeler


A submission on the repeal of the three strikes sentencing law

Just sent the following submission in on the law repealing the three strikes sentencing regime.

You have until midnight tonight if you want your say.


The Justice Committee

Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill

Submission of Graeme Edgeler


  1. This submission is made by Graeme Edgeler. I am a barrister with an interest in criminal law issues.
  2. I support the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill, and welcome the opportunity to comment on it.

Repeal of Life without Parole

  1. While I support the bill, it is somewhat of a missed opportunity, as it does not repeal all the law changes made by the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010.
  2. A major part of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010 was the creation of the sentence of life without parole.
  3. The sentence of life without parole creates sentences of no hope, and should not exist in New Zealand. I can accept that many people will never get out of prison after committing particularly heinous acts, but release should be theoretically possible for everyone.
  4. It seems odd to me that Parliament would consider that finite sentences ordered to be served without parole are unjustifiable and the possibility of a court ordering them should be removed, but that indefinite sentences should nonetheless still be able to be ordered to be served without the possibility of parole.
  5. It may be entirely appropriate that a particular person should never be released from prison, but that is a decision that should be made looking at them and their risk at the time by the New Zealand Parole Board, not by the sentencing court at the time of sentencing.
  1. The Select Committee should take this opportunity to recommend to the House that the sentence of life without parole should also be repealed, in the same way that it is to repeal determinate sentences without parole.

Resentencing of People Sentenced Under the Three Strikes Regime

  1. The bill as drafted adds transitional provisions relating to people currently serving sentences as second or third strikes. It provides that “a person is not eligible for release or re-sentencing as a consequence of any provision brought into force under the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Act 2021”.
  2. The Committee should be clear that this will not prevent people being resentenced if they meet the standard set by the Supreme Court in Fitzgerald[1](a third strike offence), which was applied by the Court of Appeal in Matara[2] (a second strike case) late last year.
  3. However, to obtain this resentencing, people will have to appeal the Court of Appeal. This is an inefficient use of Court resources. Having to have three judges sit, using up time in the Court of Appeal, rather than a single judge in the High Court should not be necessary. Given the decisions of the Supreme Court and the Court of Appeal, this law would appropriately provide for re-sentencings if the tests in those cases are met.
  4. This would not mean that everyone serving a second-strike sentence would succeed – the requirement that the sentence be inconsistent with section 9 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act is a high test to meet, but this is an argument that, given the law change, should be able to be made in the High Court, not one that should have to be made before a panel of judges in the Court of Appeal.


  1. I support the Bill but recommend that it should be amended to provide the following:
    1. The repeal of the sentence of life without parole
    2. To provide a process by which those sentenced under the three strikes regime can apply to the High Court to be resentenced where the sentence imposed upon them was inconsistent with section 9 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act.
  2. Thank for your consideration of this matter. I look forward to speaking to my submission in person.


Graeme Edgeler

[1] Fitzgerald v R [2021] NZSC 131.

[2] Matara v R [2021] NZCA 692.


A submission on the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2)

I have made a submission on the COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2).

In preparing it, I looked at the Hansard for the first reading debate, and got name-dropped as someone likely to make a submission. So, of course I did. I focus on a small bit of the bill, around the change in penalties for breaching COVID orders. In short, the infringement fees are too high, but some of the fines are probably too low.

No need for anyone else to proofread this one, it's already been sent in :-)


The Health Committee

COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2)

Submission of Graeme Edgeler

This submission is made by Graeme Edgeler. I am a Wellington barrister who mostly practices in public and criminal law.

  1. I regret that I have not had the opportunity to consider the whole COVID-19 Public Health Response Amendment Bill (No 2) (“the Bill’) given the time made available for submissions, and other commitments, however I am concerned about one aspect of the bill, being the proposed amendments to the infringement fee regime for breaches of COVID orders.
  2. Clauses 13 and 14 of the Bill of increase the maximum infringement fee and maximum fine for breaches of COVID orders. I submit that the Committee should reconsider the amounts set.
  3. In short, the maximum infringement fee is simply too high, given the purpose of infringement fees. In addition, the new maximum fine able to be imposed on a company will be disproportionately low compared to that applying to individuals.

Criminal Offence or Infringement Offence?

  1. Breaching a COVID order is both a criminal offence, punishable by a fine or imprisonment, and an infringement offence, punishable by the imposition of an infringement fee. This dual approach is common with a range of regulatory offences. More serious breaches of COVID orders can be prosecuted in the Courts as criminal offences (potentially resulting in a conviction and a criminal record) while less serious breaches can be dealt with using infringement fees (which are like parking tickets, or speeding tickets, and do not result in criminal records).
  2. This bill proposes amending both the maximum fine, and the maximum level of the infringement fee, while also allowing that the Government may, by order-in-council impose different infringement fees for different breaches of COVID orders. I will address the changes to the fine and to the infringement fee separately.

The Practical Difference Between Fines and Infringement Fees

  1. It is important that the Committee appreciates the practical differences between fines and infringement fees.
  2. A fine is a sentence that can be imposed by a Court following a prosecution and conviction for a criminal offence. When imposing a punishment, a Judge is able to look at the particular offence, and the circumstances of the offender, and impose a penalty in line with this.
  3. This is not how infringement fees work. Unlike a fine, an infringement fee is imposed as a set amount. If an enforcement agency (whether it’s a local authority, such as for a parking infringement, or police, for something like a speeding infringement, or a COVID infringement) issues someone with a ticket for an infringement offence, the infringement fee that comes with it is at a particular level set by the rule that creates the offence.
  1. These can sometimes be set to a scale, like the infringement fees for speeding, with different amounts in 5km/h increments, or they can be the same for all instances of a particular infringement offence. But when an enforcement agency chooses to impose an infringement fee in a particular case, there is no discretion as to the amount. Whatever has been set as the infringement fee is it. Because of this, infringement fees can be inequitable, and recognition of this is part of the reason why speeding fines were lowered some years back (with demerits imposed instead).

The Maximum Fine

  1. The Bill would increase the maximum penalty for those convicted of serious breaches of COVID orders from six months imprisonment, or a fine of $4000, to six months imprisonment or a fine of $12,000. For corporations convicted of breaches, the maximum penalty would rise from a fine of $12,000 to $15,000.
  2. I do not object to the increase in the maximum fine for this offence for individuals. Judges imposing sentence should have the necessary information available to them at sentencing and can impose a punishment commensurate with the offending. It is easy to imagine a serious offence justifying a fine well above the $4000 maximum currently provided.
  3. However, with the new higher fine available for individuals, the proposed increase in the fine for corporations lacks proportionality: simply put, it is now too low. Where a criminal offence provides for maximum penalties of imprisonment for individuals convicted, substantially higher maximum fines are justified for corporations convicted of the same offence to recognise that more serious punishments like prison, home detention, community detention and supervision are unavailable.
  1. Providing for a separate fine for corporations that is only 25% higher than the fine that can be imposed on an individual, who can also be imprisoned suggests that either the fine for individuals is too high, or the fine for corporations is too low.
  2. Generally, where separate penalties are provided for corporations, a multiplier of at least two, and more commonly, four or even higher would be considered proportionate. In light of the offending covered by this offence, if maximum fines of $12,000 are available for individuals, maximum fines of between $25,000 and $50,000 would be appropriate for corporations. Most offenders will, of course, not receive the maximum, but for the most serious offenders a maximum fine for a corporation of between $25,000 and $50,000 is commensurate when an individual faces a fine of $12,000 (and the possibility of imprisonment).

The Proposed Increases in the Infringement Fee are too Great

  1. If the Bill passes in its present form, the infringement fees applying to breaches of COVID orders (which will be imposed for less serious breaches of those rules, as serious breaches should be prosecuted) will be the highest individual infringement fees for any offence in New Zealand, by a substantial margin.
  2. While higher infringement fees can be justified for offending committed as part of a profit-making exercise, I do not consider that infringement fees for individuals at the level proposed by the bill can be justified.
  3. The Committee may well consider that breaches of COVID orders are more serious than breaches of other laws which provide for infringement fees. I agree entirely. But those serious COVID order breaches should not be subject to infringement fees. They should be subject to prosecution.
  1. I can imagine circumstances in which a penalty of $4000 for a breach might be appropriate for an individual, or $12,000 or higher for a corporation, but when a COVID breach is that serious, the penalty should be imposed as a fine, following conviction, not via an infringement fee.
  2. Other than three infringement offences in the Immigration (Carriers' Infringement Offences, Fees, and Forms) Regulations 2012, which provide for individual infringement fees of $2500 (all of which relate to profit-generating activity), no infringement fee for an individual in New Zealand exceeds $2000, and even fees that high are relatively rare.
  3. In general, I do not consider that infringement fees exceeding $1000 should be imposed on individuals, although I accept that infringement fees of up to $2000 for individuals might be appropriate if limited to individuals whose minor-ish offending is part of a profit-making endeavour (for example, being the person in charge of a business that is breaching a COVID order).
  4. The infringement fees that are proposed for corporations are in line with other infringement fees, although are very high in comparison to the maximum fine. Multipliers of five or six are commonly applied to infringement fees that apply to individuals, meaning that infringement fees of up to $12,000 are not necessarily excessive (although care should be taken when setting individual fees). If fines were increased as I have suggested above, then infringement fees of up to $12,000 could not be seriously objected to.

Comparison with Other Infringement Fees

  1. It is useful to compare this to other infringement offences: The highest infringement fee that is imposed for speeding is for speeding between 46km/h and 50km/h over the speed limit.[1] This fee is set at $630.[2]
  1. Drink driving is a criminal offence, but in 2014 Parliament created a new lower drink driving limit which imposes an infringement fee rather than criminal penalties for low-level drink driving; those over the older higher limit still face conviction and fines in Court, but those who have only breached the new lower limit commit an infringement offence, and face an infringement fee of $200.
  2. The Building Act creates a number of obligations, including, for example around “dangerous dams” (for example dams as part of irrigation on a farm). When a person fails to comply with a direction from a regional council around repairing a dangerous dam, maximum fines of $300,000 for an individual, and $1,500,000 for a corporation are available. This can also be enforced using an infringement fee. The infringement fee is $2000.
  3. Although speeding tickets and the infringement offence of low-level drinking driving also come with demerit points, the fact that the level of the infringement fee is substantially lower than for offending that is arguably similar in seriousness suggests the scale of the proposed increase is unnecessary.[3]

The Committee Should Consider Imposing Restrictions on the Types

  1. I anticipate that the Committee may seek input from the Regulations Review Committee about the amendments to regulation-making powers contained in this bill. One matter worth considering if a large increase in the infringement fee is considered is imposing limits on when and how the maximum fee might be appropriate (for example, limiting individual infringement fees at the upper level to individuals involved in profit-making activities).


  1. I thank the Committee for the opportunity of making this submission.
  2. In short, breaches of COVID orders can be very serious, but serious breaches should be prosecuted, rather than subject to infringement fees.
  1. The current $400 infringement fee is not especially low, but allowing the Government to make staggered infringement fees, including some higher than this, is reasonable. However, I am concerned with the particular proposal to allow individual infringement fees of up to $4000. This is much too high, and would be the highest infringement fee in New Zealand, by a substantial margin.
  2. I recommend:
    • 1. The maximum infringement fee for an individual should be set at $1000.
    • 2. Any higher infringement fee (up to $2000) that is imposed on an individual should be limited to individuals involved in a profit-making enterprise)
    • 3. The bill’s proposal for a maximum infringement fee for corporations of $12,000 is reasonable.
    • 4. The increase in the maximum fine for individuals to $12000 in reasonable.
    • 5. The maximum fine for corporations is disproportionately low, when compared to (i) the maximum infringement fee for corporations; (ii) the maximum fine available for individuals, and (iii) the fact that individuals face the possibility of imprisonment. A maximum fine of $25,000 or $50,000 could be justified and would be in line with other offences.
  3. I look forward to speaking to the Committee if time is available.

Graeme Edgeler

[1]     Speeding at a higher level is effectively always charged as careless, reckless or dangerous driving.

[2]     Land Transport (Offences and Penalties) Regulations 1999, schedule 1B, part 2.

[3]     I encourage the Committee to Consider the Civil Aviation (Offences) Regulations 2006, which has the most comparisons, along with the Building (Infringement Offences, Fees, and Forms) Regulations 2007, and the Land Transport (Offences and Penalties) Regulations 1999 as providing example of infringement fees that may be useful comparisons.


Draft Submission: COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill

Late last week, the Government introduced two further bills around the COVID-19 response, one the COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill has a very short select committee process, which has meant I haven't been able to consider it fully. There was one matter I saw for concern, which is detailed in my draft submission below. Submissions are due tomorrow, so feel free to suggest amendments, or point out typos, etc.

This one is an odd one: it expands the power of the Government to delay local elections. The problem is that Parliament already did this in 2020, in earlier COVID response legislation and its first attempt had better safeguards. There's no mention of that law in any of the public documents (there aren't many) around this, almost as if the Department has forgotten it exists.

Submission below. Comments welcome. (Please ignore the numbering issues, it all looks fine in the CMS and the word doc I'm working in)


The Finance and Expenditure Committee

COVID-19 Response (Management Measures) Legislation Bill

Submission of Graeme Edgeler

  1. This submission is made by Graeme Edgeler. I am a Wellington barrister with an interest in electoral law.
  2. I regret that I have not had the opportunity to consider the whole bill given the time made available for submissions, but my brief consideration of it raises concerns about one aspect of the bill: the proposed amendments to the Local Electoral Act 2001.
  1. This bill is a COVID-19 Response legislation bill. While I anticipate all members will accept that the response to COVID-19 might give rise to a need to adjourn a local election (for example due to a local authority being under level 3 or level 4 restrictions, limiting campaigning, voting and enrolment), this has in fact already been addressed: the COVID-19 Response (Further Management Measures) Legislation Act 2020 created COVID-related local election adjournment powers in the Local Electoral Act.
  2. No explanation has been given why these pre-existing COVID adjournment powers are considered insufficient. Nothing in the publicly available material around the bill seems to suggest that the Department even knows they exist.
  3. I am also concerned that an amendment of permanent effect, not limited to responding to the COVID-19 epidemic, has been included in an urgent COVID-19 Response legislation bill.
  4. I recommend that the Committee seek advice on the amendments to the Local Electoral Act and give consideration to:
    • 1. Applying the amendments to the 2022 local elections only;
    • 2. Limiting the effect of the amendments to the COVID-19 epidemic;
    • 3. Consider whether additional safeguards should be added, given the additional powers being given to the Minister.
  5. In particular, I propose that if the Committee considers there are deficiencies in the way the Local Electoral Act permits the Government to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic, it would be better to amend the adjournment power in section 73AB of the Local Electoral Act, rather than that in section 73A.

Adjournment of Local Elections in Emergencies

  1. The Local Electoral Act 2001 contains three powers to adjourn local elections:
    • 1. Section 73 gives a power to an electoral officer to adjourn (ie delay) the election for which they are responsible in the event of an emergency, such as a natural disaster, or adverse weather conditions. Adjournments are for a maximum of 14 days each, but repeated adjournments may be made.
    • 2. Section 73A (that proposed to be amended by the bill) covers situations where an emergency may prevent election processes being run fairly, and provides for an order-in-council to adjourn voting in local elections for up to six weeks if necessary. The section appears to apply a limit of one such adjournment.
    • 3. Section 73AB provides for an order-in-council process to adjourn elections due to COVID-19. The maximum length of an adjournment is six weeks, but subsequent orders, further delaying the election for up to six weeks at a time are permitted.
  1. Clause 4 of this bill would amend the general adjournment power in section 73A. The amendment is not limited to the responding to COVID-19 and unlike most of the other amendments proposed by this bill, is not a one-off:
    • 1. It does not apply only to the 2022 local elections.
    • 2. The changes it makes are permanent.
    • 3. The changes apply to all circumstances in which the section 73A power may be used, not just COVID-19.
    • 4. The only explanation given in the bill (no regulatory impact statement appears to be available) is that it will “provide more flexibility to delay triennial local elections..”.
  2. The explanation in the legislative statement is a little longer, but does not explain the rationale for this particular change:

Local Electoral Act 2001

The next triennial local elections are scheduled to take place on 8 October 2022. The Minister of Local Government proposes amending section 73A of the Local Electoral Act 2001 to extend the ability for the Governor-General, by Order in Council, to specify a later date or dates for key points in the process for triennial local elections in an emergency situation.

Currently section 73A of the Local Electoral Act 2001 only allows for an Order in Council to move key election dates up to 6 weeks after the date that would have otherwise applied. The Bill will allow one key election date dates to be extended further by up to 6 weeks at a time.

  1. It is true that the adjournment power in section 73A only permits one six-week adjournment (which the bill would change), but the adjournment power in section 73AB of the Local Electoral Act already allows for repeated[1] six-week adjournments if the reason for the adjournment is COVID-19. Given this, it is not clear why this amendment it thought to be necessary.
  2. It may be that the section 73A power, which applies, for example, during natural disasters, would be improved by allowing repeated adjournments. But such a change should be made in the ordinary way, following the ordinary regulatory assessment process, and not urgently, and in an un-related bill.

Any Concerns Should be Met by an Amendment to Section 73AB

  1. It is not clear what non-epidemic concerns have led to the proposal to amend the adjournment power in section 73A, rather than 73AB. But if the concerns are around COVID-19, then the bill should amend section 73AB instead. That section is headed “Adjournment of electoral processes and conduct of polls while epidemic notice in force for COVID-19”.
  1. The adjournment power in Section 73AB has several advantages over that in section 73A, in both its current and proposed forms. In particular, in dealing with COVID-19, the power imposes additional safeguards:
    • 1. It requires a notice under the Epidemic Preparedness Act to be in force (the bill would add a definition of emergency to include an epidemic, but would not actually require epidemic powers to be invoked).
    • 2. It is limited to the COVID-19 response, and the additional powers it contains expire[2] when the epidemic ends.
  2. With respect to COVID-19 related adjournments, section 73AB already provides the extra flexibility (repeated six-week adjournments) that is mentioned in the legislative statement as being the reason for the proposed amendment.
  3. If there are concerns that section 73AB will not cover the field, officials should elaborate on those concerns, and propose amendments to them to rectify the situation. There is no justification for addressing non-COVID concerns in an urgent COVID response bill, least of all one allowing only a few days for submissions.

Possible Amendments to Clause 4

  1. If the decision is made that the COVID adjournment powers are to be moved into section 73A, then the protections contained in section 73AB should be carried over:
    • 1. The additional powers should be limited to the COVID-19 response, and to the 2022 local elections.
    • 2. Use of the powers should be premised on the existence of an epidemic notice under the Epidemic Preparedness Act.
    • 3. The additional powers should have a sunset clause.


  1. I regret that I lack the legal knowledge to fully vet the remainder of the Bill in the time available, but having considered this matter, bring my concerns to you.
  1. Parliament has already given the Government powers to respond to the COVID-19 epidemic in section 73AB of the Local Electoral Act. No explanation has been given as to why those adjournment powers are deficient. For example, they already permit the flexibility of repeated six-week adjournments the Government says it need.
  2. Any concerns with this power should be addressed by amendment to section 73AB, not by making permanent amendments to section 73A, especially when those amendments are not limited to the COVID response.
  3. If there are non-COVID concerns behind the proposed amendment, then the Committee should recommend the amendments be removed from the bill, with the government advancing any desired changes them in the ordinary way and not as part of an urgent COVID response bill.
  4. I look forward to speaking to the Committee if time is available.



Graeme Edgeler

[1]     See Local Electoral Act s 73AB(10).

[2]     Local Electoral Act, s 73AC(1).


Not too late to make the Counter Terrorism Legislation Bill clearer

The Counter-Terrorism Legislation Bill was back from Select Committee last week, and got its second reading today.

My submission on the original bill is here. As I often am, I was more reticitent in pushing back that other submitters, largely focussed on asking the Justice Committee to assure itself the new law is needed. The specific questions I raised have been answered by officials, which is nice:

319. Graeme Edgeler (submission 71) asked four specific questions about the terrorist act definition amendments.

a. Question 1: Have there been occasions where the Government has looked at prosecuting something as terrorism, but decided against because of the current definition? The reason for the amendments is forward-looking to ensure that the definition can be relied on in future cases where it is appropriate to prosecute acts as terrorism (see the reasons given above for the proposed changes). There are no specific cases that have dictated the need for the suggested amendments.

b. Question 2: Has the Government not acted to declare a particular organisation a terrorist entity when it would have preferred to have done so, but formed a view that it fell beyond the current law? The answer to that question is no. However, for completeness, we note that the Terrorist Designations Working Group has considered whether some entities are eligible for designation and has determined that they are not under the current framework.

c. Question 3: Has the Government’s proposed change arisen not because some action was not taken in New Zealand, but because of problems identified in other jurisdictions with similar definitions to New Zealand’s current definition? Again, the answer to that question is no. The proposed definition changes are sought by law enforcement authorities in New Zealand to ensure that the definition cannot be circumvented solely by language that may lead to a prosecution failing due to outdated wording or as to uncertainty of the scope of the wording.

d. Question 4: Are the definition changes intended to bring within the current and new terrorism offences actions like those alleged to have occurred in Te Uruwera? As noted above, there are no prior cases that the definition changes are intended to address to allow particular cases to be prosecuted in the future that could not have been prosecuted in the past. In relation to this aspect of Mr Edgeler’s submission, given the facts of the case he refers to, it is difficult to see how any of the definition changes could have made any difference to the outcome of that case.

I still have concerns with the bill, and whether all of the changes it makes are necessary, but the Government has made a clear policy decision and will enact it.

There remains one matter of drafting that still concerns me, which was addressed by officials, but ultimately not changed. Officials appear to be of the opinion that my concern is unwarranted, but the reasons they give are not entirely convincing, so I will expand on my concerns here, in the hope that someone will read this, and reconsider. When making a written submission one always wonders exactly how much to explain, and because its possible I didn’t fully explain my concerns, I will take the opportunity to do so now, before the bill starts the committee of the whole stage.

It concerns the amendments to the law that the Government considers necessary to fill a “gap” in the law exposed by their failed prosecution of Ahamed Samsudeen for preparing to commit a terrorist act, something which is not currently criminal in New Zealand.

The definition of terrorist act in the Terrorism Suppression Act has multiple applications in the current law, most obviously, it forms the basis of the terrorist act offence, which, for example, the Christchurch terrorist was convicted of. It also affects the rules around financing of terrorist organisations, and the designation of terrorist organisations.

Section 25 of the Terrorism Suppression Act formed the basis of the failed attempt to prosecute S for terrorism. Section 25(1) provides:

Carrying out and facilitating terrorist acts

(1) For the purposes of this Act, a terrorist act is carried out if any 1 or more of the following occurs:

(a) planning or other preparations to carry out the act, whether it is actually carried out or not:

(b) a credible threat to carry out the act, whether it is actually carried out or not:

(c) an attempt to carry out the act:

(d) the carrying out of the act.

This seems expansive, but importantly for the prosecution of S, it appears under the heading:

Further provisions relating to interim and final designations

The Court held, as an exercise in statutory interpretation, that the section only dealt with things like designations (which have always been covered by the Terrorism Suppression Act), and not the criminal offence of committing a terrorist act, which was added later. The argument is compelling, I think, and the court judgment is available here for those interested.

The bill essentially replicates the section as a part of the criminal offence. Ministerial advisers don’t really see this as a change. They consider that the wider concept of carrying out a terrorist act has been in the Terrorism Suppression Act since its inception, and this this is not changing. This is true in part, but elides an important point. Previously, this expanded definition of “carrying out” did not form part of the terrorist act criminal offence, and only related to the designation of terrorist entities. The bill changes this.

It is easy to see why you might want to be able to designate a terrorist entity as such, before it had committed a terrorist act. There is a process around designation, and ways to challenge decisions by review and appeal. It does not automatically result in criminal liability, and any downstream liability is clear (eg don’t be a member of a designated terrorist entity, and don’t fund one), so even people who disagree with a designation are clear on their legal obligations.

My concern is the adoption of this language in a criminal offence around committing a terrorist act, in particular around the concept of “credible threat”. It seems entirely reasonable that the Government would want to be able to designate an entity as a terrorist entity if its actions have meant a credible threat to carry out a terrorist act has occurred.

I am a legal expert, not a terrorism expert, but from my understanding, things can be described as “credible threats” even when a threat has not actively been made. In advance of public holidays in the US in the years after the September 11 attacks, authorities would sometimes announce that there was a credible threat, and would eg increase airport security measures. They did not necessarily mean that a terrorist group had actually made a threat, instead the credible threat could arise from intercepted communications, or a tipoff, or even something like a group of sailors going missing off a cargo ship in port, or some combination of the above and more.

When an organisation gets to the level where they are considered a credible threat of terrorism, I can see that you might want to designate them as such, but this type of credible threat isn’t necessarily something they have done, but something that has arisen. This concept of credible threat does not easily transfer to the criminal offence of committing a terrorist act.

The other ways you can commit a terrorist act are all active, and are defined by verbs in the legislation:

  • Planning the terrorist act
  • Preparing to carry out the terrorist act
  • Attempting to carry out the terrorist act
  • Carrying out the terrorist act

    Given the penalties for committing a terrorist act, the law would be much clearer if the credible threat language was similarly active:

    • Making a credible threat to carry out a terrorist act

    A situation in which a credible threat exists should not, by itself, be criminalised. The making of a credible threat should, and other more general credible threats could still be illegal if the credible threat of terrorism had arisen because authorities learned of preparations to carry out the terrorist act.

    The Departmental advice on my submission records:

    326. The Law Society (submission 54) and Graeme Edgeler (submission 71) may have misunderstood that section 5A is existing law and does not create any new concept of carrying out a terrorist act. As outlined in the clause by clause analysis in the Bill “New section 5A relocates section 25 (which is about carrying out and facilitating terrorist acts and is repealed by clause 21). New section 5A(1) is identical in substance to section 25(1).”

    327. It is also not correct that section 5A(1)(b) expands the definition of terrorism to cover credible threats. The definition of “terrorist act” (which gives a wide meaning to “carried out”) has been in the TSA since 2002, when the legislation was first enacted.

    328. Officials agree that the drafting of clause 8 (amending section 6A) is slightly more complex than in the current Act. However, that is to make explicit that planning or other preparations is now a stand-alone offence and criminal liability for that conduct can only arise under section 6B and not section 6A. This means that the maximum penalty for planning or other preparations is 7 years’ imprisonment, and not the maximum of life imprisonment under section 6A for carrying out a terrorist act.

    329. Graeme Edgeler (submission 71) also suggested that the wording of, new section 5A(1)(b) should be amended to cover the ‘making of’ a credible threat. Officials do not consider this amendment necessary as the current wording is clear. The provision, as drafted, requires that a credible threat occurs. As a threat cannot occur without first being made, the wording change is unnecessary.

    The language used in the bill is identical in substance to that currently used in section 25(1), but it is not identical in effect, because it now operates directly on the criminal offence. There are reasons why the passive language in section 25(1)(b) of the current law might be appropriate for a section around designating terrorist groups. It is not appropriate when applied to the terrorist act offence. The Departmental advice that a threat is something that must be made is welcome, but there is no reason not to be clear in the legislation itself. Hopefully this can be fixed before the law is passed.


    Everything was Done; or some answers to some of the questions people have been asking

    On 3 September, New Zealand Police shot and killed Ahamed Samsudeen, shortly after he commenced a knife attack in an Auckland supermarket. Considering him to be highly dangerous, he was under close surveillance. His death meant, that in the days following, the Government and the Courts were able to release a substantial amount of information about him, and how Police and the justice system had dealt with him across his years in New Zealand.

    There are things the public does not yet know, but answers to many major questions are available, ably brought to light by a number of journalists. The reporting of one of those journalists, Stuff’s Edward Gay, and similar stories from other news outlets, as well as similar information released by the Sensible Sentencing Trust, has some people asking questions. And while I cannot answer all of them, there are two big ones I can answer.

    I can start with the short one: Doesn’t the Refugee Convention allow the deportation of people who are a natural security risk, even if they would otherwise be entitled to asylum? It might, but it doesn’t matter. The 1951 Refugee Convention, and the effect given to it under New Zealand immigration law are not the only laws governing refoulement of non-residents. New Zealand has obligations under other laws, including, for example the Torture Convention, not to send people to countries where they are at risk of torture. The Government has not released the information it held about the situation in S’s home country, but arguments focussing entirely on what would be permitted under refugee law alone miss a very important point.

    The other bigger question is around whether Police did everything they could to keep S off the streets. Everything we have seen indicated they did. In some respects, they went to ridiculous lengths, raising serious questions about what our censorship laws cover. They’re not particularly relevant to the questions people have been raising, but I think they are important so address them too.

    S was remanded in prison on two distinct occasions. Police actions in respect of both show them doing everything possible to keep S detained.

    I’ll address them in chronological order. In late 2016, S was arrested and charged with several offences:

    • nine charges of knowingly distributing objectionable material under the Films, Videos and Publications Classification Act 1993 (videos shared on Facebook, said by Police to support violence or terrorism) maximum 14 years in prison)
    • one charge of possession of an offensive weapon (a knife, maximum three years)
    • one charge of failing to assist in the exercise of a search power (by refusing to provide a password to Police to unlock a phone – maximum three months); and
    • two charges of using a document for pecuniary advantage (giving false information in applications for credit used to obtain an iPhone and a watch)

    Police opposed bail. Knowingly distributing objectionable publications is a serious offence, and bail cannot be expected. The Court agreed with Police. While S wasn’t charged with violent offending, both the Police and Courts appeared concerned that it might follow.

    There was a problem for the prosecution. Five months later, the Censor had looked at the material that was the subject of those serious charges, nine Facebook posts S admitted publishing, none of which, it turns out, supported violence or terrorism. There were some disturbing images, but not of the type that a free country bans. Each video was rated R18.

    I will not detail the material here, but many of the videos were of atrocities committed during war, some of which had also been posted by news organisations, including the Daily Mail, and al Jazeera. Police in other countries might investigate evidence of war crimes. Here they were investigating people sharing evidence of war crimes.

    S sought bail again: the Censor’s ruling that the major plank of the prosecution was baseless was a change in circumstance. Police opposed. They had asked the Film and Literature Board of Review to overrule the censor. It was still possible – albeit highly unlikely* – that the Board of Review would overrule the Censor, ruling the videos objectionable, so the prosecution wasn’t technically. That was enough for the Judge. S remained in prison.

    A few months later, the Board of Review confirmed the view of the censor. The charges of knowingly distributing objectionable material were gone. All the videos were R18. You wouldn’t children watching them, but possession of them, and sharing of them with adults was lawful.

    S again applied for bail. Police dropped the now impossible charges. And it happens, the knife charge as well (this was later re-laid, as explained later). But Police still wanted to do what they could over the Facebook videos, even though they were lawful. Two representative charges of knowingly distributing restricted material were added. That is: S was charged with sharing R18 material with people under 18. There’s no mention of evidence that S had Facebook friends under 18. And no evidence that a kid saw even one of the videos because S shared it. But maybe one did, but Police said sharing R18 material to Facebook was enough.

    To draw the first stupid analogy that came into my head: they thought someone was in possession of incest porn. They went to the censor Turns out, it was actually an excerpt of late ’90s classic Cruel Intentions. So they prosecuted them for sharing that.**

    It’s a theory of censorship law that makes some journalism criminal. The censor never rated the public evidence of abuse in Abu Ghraib, but its easy to imagine it getting an R18 or R16 rating if considered by the censor. Video footage like that in the Four Corners’ “Killing Field” investigation into actions of the Australian SAS in Afghanistan could easily be restricted as well. Which would mean you couldn’t print them, or run them on websites in New Zealand. It’s a theory that makes much website pornography illegal as well. And also google image search. Won't somebody think of the children.

    S pleaded guilty to the remaining offences – he always accepted he’d shared the video – but with the serious offences gone, and with S having spent 13 months in prison, he applied for bail. Police knew the sentence that could realistically be imposed on the outstanding charges was less than the 13 months S had already been in prison, so they didn’t oppose bail per se, but did hold out for an argument around conditions, asking for a curfew. Ultimately, the Judge held that the sentence already served meant that would be improper. Because of the time S had served in prison, S wouldn’t be getting a sentence that could see curfew-like restrictions imposed, so they couldn’t be imposed on bail pending sentencing. S was sentenced a few months later.

    During his time on bail, Police were paying close attention to S (it is not known whether it was as intensive as under his more recent release). During the three months awaiting sentencing in the Hight Court, S was rearrested, and faced new charges, including possession of objectionable publication (maximum 10 years in prison), and possession of a knife in a public place. Police re-laid the knife possession charge they had dropped in June 2018.

    Bail was refused throughout these charges, and S ultimately spent around three more years in prison on remand.

    Two of the weapons charges were thrown out. They were charges that S possessed a knife and a throwing star, which were at the address he lived in prior to his arrest while attempting to leave for Syria in 2017. It is legal to possess knives in your home, but this become illegal if Police can establish that possession is in circumstances showing a prime facie intention to use them in a violent offence. Except S abandoned those weapons when he left for the airport, making it impossible a judge ruled, for police to prove even to that low standard (well below reasonable doubt) any criminal intention.

    One subsequent knife charge remained. This is one that the jury acquitted him of. Court documents show what the charge actually involved. The charge was possession of a knife in a public place, so evidence that it had been at S’s home wouldn’t be enough. The public place S was said to have possessed the knife was the shop at which S bought the knife. I paraphrase a court judgment below, describing the charge:

    Wanting to replace the knife taken by Police from his home, S visited a store which sold knives. He spoke to a staff member in relation to purchasing a 10-inch knife. He told them he had viewed it online and advised he wanted a long knife. S picked up the knife from inside the cabinet, held it and checked the blade. He discussed the quality of the knife with a staff member prior to putting the knife in its sheath, handing it to them stating he would take it. S paid the full price ($39) in case, and requested that the knife be couriered to his address, providing his name, address and mobile. He explained to the shop attendant that he wanted to have the knife couriered as he did not want to take the knife out in public, as he feared people’s reactions to a dark man carrying a knife in public.

    That two-minute period during which S held the knife prior to purchasing it was said by Police to be possession in a public place for which S did not have a lawful excuse. The judge let this charge go to trial, and S was acquitted by a jury, something for which I feel a need to thank them. This is why we have juries.

    During this second period of detention, Police also sought to lay terrorism charges, despite no terrorism having then been committed. This too was thrown out: planning to commit a crime has never been a crime of itself (Parliament is currently making it one). The videos S had this time, however, did support terrorism, and S was convicted in respect of two out of three charges.

    The objectionable publications, while support of terrorism, were not of a particularly serious kind. By way of comparison, possession of a live-stream of a terror attack is more serious than possession of a manifesto, and the publications here were much closer to the latter, with the pro-ISIS and pro-terrorism message largely conveyed through words.

    The two publications, videos of religious hymns, were described in the sentencing notes as:

    “The first nasheed, titled “What a victory for he who got shahada” features a still image of a man wearing a black balaclava and black clothing, holding a large machine gun and standing in a field of flowers. Behind him is a flag of ISIL or ISIS, a designated terrorist organisation under the New Zealand Terrorism Suppression Act 2002. The nasheed is sung in Arabic but with large English subtitles also displayed. The lyrics of this nasheed speak of obtaining martyrdom on the battlefield and being killed in Allah’s cause.

    “The second nasheed is similar, and is titled “We came to fill the horror everywhere”. It contains a series of black and white images in the background, which are somewhat difficult to make out, but tend to show buildings with smoke around them, images of the ISIL flag flying from vehicles and being held by soldiers. Again, the nasheed is sung in Arabic but with English subtitles displayed. It speaks to matters such as making disbelievers taste the heat of swords, sending disbelievers to death without mercy, and to make countries of disbelief “rain with fire and a strike on their streets and attacks.”

    While 10 years is the maximum sentence available under the charge faced, that is reserved for the worst kinds of offending (eg videos showing actual victims of child sexual abuse). You are not going to get sentences close to that for possession of what are effectively word-based publications. At the sentencing, the Crown suggesting a starting point of six months imprisonment. The judge agreed. S had, of course, been in prison this second time for approximately three years.

    Given this, a prison sentence being pointless (it would see S freed, with no restrictions), so S was sentenced to supervision, with a number of special conditions imposed. The Crown sought electronic monitoring, but this was refused by the judge, who was “conscious of the lengthy time [S had] already spent in custody”.

    S also faced newer charges in the District Court, for assaults on Corrections staff during his three years in prison, but given what had happened in the High Court, and the nature of charges remaining in the District Court, that was a foregone conclusion. 10 months in prison had passed since the assault charges were laid, and with the trial some way off, it was obvious to all that more time spent on remand would be in excess of any likely sentence.

    Auckland Crown Solicitor Brian Dickey is recorded in Edward Gay’s article:

    The Crown solicitor for Auckland, Brian Dickey, told Stuff that S had already spent 10 months in prison on the assault charges and any trial date was likely to be sometime in the second half of 2022.

    Had S been found guilty of the assault charges, Dickey said, he would have been released, given the time he had already served.

    “As such, and in the knowledge Mr [s] was to be subject to the sentence of supervision imposed by the High Court, police, represented by and taking advice from the Office of the Crown Solicitor at Auckland, determined that continued opposition to Mr [S]’s bail would inevitably fail,” Dickey said.

    “That is, despite their ongoing concerns, given the time Mr [S] had spent in custody already his continued detention could no longer be reasonably justified.”

    He said police had previously opposed [S]’ bid for bail but the police had exhausted all options available to keep [S] in custody.

    “Consequently the police focus was upon preparations for Mr [S]’s inevitable release.”

    With a High Court judge having just refused electronic monitoring because of the time already served, Police knew no District Court judge was going to impose it. Bail followed a few days later in the District Court, by consent. No other outcome was realisitically possible. Conditions akin to those imposed in the High Court's sentence of supervision were added.

    While we don’t yet know everything that occurred, the actions of Police as recorded in Court documents released following S’s death, show that Police did everything they could to have him in continued detention. If anything, as a civil libertarian, I'm concerned they did too much.

    * The FLBR is designed as a community check on the Censor, and has historically been more likely to reduce a rating, rather than increase it, although that is not wholly unknown.

    ** This isn’t quite fair: while during its New Zealand theatrical run Cruel Intentions had an R18 rating, this was later reduced to R16, but it was the first stupid analogy I thought of, and the same legal concern would arise with R16 material.