The United Motorcycle Council has vowed to mount a High Court challenge if State Parliament is given the power to declare bikie gangs as criminal organisations.
Although the proposed law is based on existing interstate law that has survived the High Court, the council is confident it will succeed — as it did in 2010 — at great cost to SA taxpayers.
In an exclusive interview with The Advertiser, a council spokesman — himself a high-ranking member of an outlaw motorcycle club — addressed:
EXISTING anti-bikie laws “that target us very well”;
CONSORTING laws that have banned members from contacting one another, and
PROSECUTORS “overcharging” club members, resulting in acquittals.
He said the proposed law was no more than “a smokescreen” created by a government that was “desperate for a diversion”.
“There’s always a timing, a rhythm, to these announcements and you don’t need a crystal ball to see they’re coming,” the spokesman said.
“Police stations and courts are closing, submarine contracts have been lost and pensioners’ council rate concessions can’t be covered — oh, here comes a tough new bikie law.
“It’s absolutely, 100 per cent, a political tactic that’s used every single time, and it’s only going to create more expense because we will fight this in the High Court, there’s no doubt of that.”
On Tuesday, Attorney-General John Rau announced new laws that would give State Parliament, rather than courts, the power to declare gangs as criminal organisations.
Criminal declarations have been a fraught aspect of anti-bikie legislation since 2010, when the High Court threw out SA’s first attempt at such laws.
In a 6-1 majority decision, the court branded SA’s laws “constitutional repugnant” because it obliged courts to declare organisations to be criminal whenever police made application.
An amended version of the law was later ratified, giving courts the discretion to declare criminal organisations after first considering evidence.
Yesterday, the council spokesman said it was “inevitable” the proposed new law would meet the same fate as its predecessor in 2010.
“The High Court won’t allow politicians to make themselves judge, jury and executioners, and nor should it — courts should make the final decisions, they are unbiased,” he said.
“Why would you want this power in the hands of a politician who could use it to his or her own advantage, or to the advantage of his or her party?”
He said the resources devoted to drafting the law, and defending it, was better spent on employment, industry and “law enforcement initiatives that people actually want”.
“I don’t think the general public lies awake at night thinking about bikies, they think ‘I can’t afford my electricity bill’ or ‘I wonder if I’ll have a job tomorrow’,” he said.
“Police stations and courts are closing because we can’t afford them, the jails are full and we’ve lost the submarine contract ... what’s the point of creating more expense?”
He said clubs were not seeking public sympathy and that members expected to be targeted, by police, using existing laws that effectively curbed anti-social behaviour.
“Are we being treated differently? Yes, we are. Do we expect that? Yes, we do,” he said.
“You’re not going to hear us complain about that, it’s what we expect ... the police force has an excellent strike rate, if we put a foot wrong we are going to be arrested.
“We walk into a licenced premises, they can ban us for three months and anti-consorting is happening already — there are two guys on charges for talking to one another.”
However, he said governments, police and prosecutors fail to address gang-related issues whenever they “push too far” within the law.
“The fact is that charges against a club member will always start very high,” he said.
“You won’t be charged with theft, you’ll be charged with aggravated theft with intent ... you won’t be charged with assault, it’ll be affray.”
He said that had resulted in the acquittal of Mongols members Nick Forbes on affray charges, and a ruling that Andrew Majchrak’s “bling” ring was not a knuckleduster.
In both of those cases, the Mongols members were awarded court costs.
“I think prosecutors and police are being told to overcharge club members and, once again, that only creates more expense for the taxpayer,” the spokesman said.
Mr Rau said he was not impressed by the council’s stance.
“They would say that, wouldn’t they — a predictable response from the usual suspects,” he said.