A new Unexplained Wealth Bill allows the state to seize property without anyone being convicted of crime, CLA’s Richard Griggs warns. States enact new money-grabbing laws because police fail to catch criminals.
Wealth Bill under attack
MATT SMITH, The Mercury, Hobart firstname.lastname@example.org 21 August 2013
CIVIL libertarians have criticised legislation over unexplained wealth that could result in Tasmanians losing their homes without being convicted of a crime.
Two pieces of legislation that allow the state to confiscate the property of people who cannot explain their wealth are expected to be debated in the Lower House today.
Australian Civil Liberties Tasmanian director Richard Griggs has questioned the need for the legislation that would give the state the power to seize property — even when someone has not been convicted of a crime.
But Attorney-General Brian Wightman said the new legislation, similar to laws in most other Australian jurisdictions, was an important tool in the fight against organised crime. “The main objective of this legislation is to disrupt and deter serious organised crime,” Mr Wightman said. “The provisions of the Bill are squarely aimed at people who appear to live beyond their legitimate means of support.”
Mr Griggs said the proposed legislation went too far. “You don’t need to have a conviction and never have to prove a case,” he said.
Mr Griggs said existing Tasmanian laws were adequate because they allowed for profits to be confiscated, but only after a conviction.
He said the experience from other states had shown unexplained wealth laws could end up targeting lower level criminals. “The laws fall on the Mr Littles of crime disproportionately and excessively, rather than the Mr Bigs,” he said yesterday.
Mr Wightman said senior organised crime figures fund and support crime, but seldom carry out crimes or offences. “Often they cannot be directly linked to specific offences and consequently existing conviction-based forfeiture orders do not apply,” he said.
The new laws allow the Supreme Court to make an unexplained wealth declaration against a person who apparently lives beyond their legitimate income, unless the person can establish the wealth was lawfully acquired. The laws allows the Supreme Court to order payment by the person in question to the state of the amount assessed as being the value of the person’s unexplained wealth.
“Safeguards have been included to provide checks and balances between the policies of combating the power of organised crime and the preservation of civil freedoms,” he said.
Additional powers of investigation, tracing and preservation of assets are also included in the new laws.