Ex-Director of Public Prosecutions for NSW Nicholas Cowdery warns Queensland's Criminal Organisation Act may trample basic rights
From: The Courier-Mail
June 07, 2012
QUEENSLAND'S organised crime laws, unleashed for the first time on the Finks motorcycle gang, avoid the "fatal flaws" that sank interstate efforts in the High Court, a former top crime fighter says.
But Nicholas Cowdery, who regularly put bikies behind bars as NSW Director of Public Prosecutions, said Queensland's Criminal Organisation Act might yet come unstuck for trampling basic rights.
In the US, the RICO laws - Racketeer Influenced and Corrupt Organizations - have been successful in targeting the mafia, organised crime and gangs, jailing the bosses even if they don't commit crimes themselves.
However, Mr Cowdery said the lack of sophistication of Australia's bikie gangs compared to the world's big organised crime groups meant US-style laws used to crush cross-border mafia enterprises might not work here.
Mr Cowdery said the typical Australian bikie's drug and violence offences were "ordinary crimes", mostly carried out by individuals and very rarely part of a gang-wide enterprise.
"You might be able to argue that clubs like the Hells Angels are involved in a more organised way in crime, particularly in drug importation and distribution and manufacture in Australia," he said.
"But the vast majority of motorcycle gangs are not organised to that degree and so by and large, I think we are over-reacting to a limited threat of organised criminal conduct for which our existing laws are perfectly adequate."
As lawyers for the Finks revealed that a High Court challenge of Queensland's Criminal Organisation Act was imminent, the United Motorcycle Council Queensland confirmed it would pool a fighting fund from other clubs.
The Finks' Gold Coast chapter raised $200,000 for their South Australian brethren in 2009, jailed Terror Team member Darren Watson told an undercover cop in 2009, according to court files.
Other Queensland clubs, including the "hated" Hells Angels, kicked in $300,000, Watson allegedly said.
University of Queensland law professor Andreas Schloenhardt said South Australia and NSW had recently copied the "less controversial Queensland model".
Here, courts alone decided if gangs were "criminal organisations" and judges had to explain to bikies why control orders were made.
Mr Cowdery said while the Queensland model was "the least objectionable" in the country, it was still a "significant departure from our ordinary legal principles".
"As a matter of principle, there is serious interference with freedom of association, freedom of expression, the right to work, family relationships," he said.
"So people are penalised, potentially criminally, not for what they've done but for who they associate with," Mr Cowdery said.