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SA Govt defends anti-biker/anti-association laws in High Court

Tuesday, 20 April 2010

The South Australian government is defending its so called anti-biker laws in the High Court, arguing they have safeguards protecting civil liberties and the independence of magistrates.

The SA Supreme Court has ruled invalid an aspect of the laws dealing with control orders preventing certain people associating, after a successful legal challenge from the Finks motorcycle club.

Appealing that decision today, the state's solicitor-general Martin Hinton QC told the full bench of the High Court in Canberra that the laws are fair.

Under South Australia's Serious and Organised Crime Control Act, the attorney-general can ask the police commissioner to seek a control order for members of a group suspected of "supporting or encouraging serious criminal activity".

Justice Virginia Bell asked him who judged an attorney-general's decision if civil liberties were curtailed.

Mr Hinton replied subjects of a control order could apply to the SA Supreme Court to have the decision reviewed.

The law also respected the independence of courts, he said.

"The functions of the attorney-general making the declaration and a magistrate making a control order are separate and distinct," Mr Hinton told the court.

He admitted however the law did not properly define who constituted an associate member of an outlaw group.

But he argued law enforcement agencies struggled to successfully prosecute bike groups because they often intimidated witnesses.

SA Attorney-General Michael Atkinson used the law in May 2009 to ban members of the Finks associating with each other.

But they successfully challenged this in the SA Supreme Court four months later.

The Finks argue the government can rely on faulty criminal intelligence to have control orders placed on people, including innocent associates.

Their High Court lawyer Craig Caldicott, speaking to reporters outside the court today, said someone's neighbour could simply report an untested claim about them and that could then make its way onto a criminal intelligence file.

"The police can rely on that intelligence to make their decision and forward that on to the attorney-general," Mr Caldicott said.

"The attorney-general doesn't verify that evidence or how true or accurate it is."

He added that the law was too loose in its definition of associates, saying that spouses or mates at the pub could be classified as associates prevented from contact with someone subjected to a control order.

South Australian Premier Mike Rann, in Canberra for a Council of Australian Governments meeting, was hopeful of a High Court victory.

"We're talking about laws that are aimed at people who are involved in everything from murder to selling death to our kids, and who are manufacturing and selling drugs," he told reporters earlier on Tuesday.

"The fact that bikies from around the country have been coming to South Australia to demonstrate against our laws mean that they're good laws."

The High Court hearing continues.






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