Labor reverses onus of proof

June 6, 2001


SYDNEY — Police in New South Wales are to be given wide powers to arrest people seen entering or leaving suspected "drug houses" and those suspected of acting as lookouts. Officers will also be able to seize properties and force people suspected of waiting to do drug deals in public places to move on.

The changes come as part of the state Labor government's new anti-drug laws but, according to opponents, have more to do with eroding civil liberty than assisting with the management of drugs in society. The president of the NSW Law Society, Nick Meagher, likens the proposed new laws to "Nazi-style legislation" which could see suspects jailed without charge.

Arresting people on suspicion and forcing them to prove their innocence is a reverse on the basic legal principle, onus of proof. Instead of the assumption that a person is innocent until proven guilty, the change will mean a person must prove that they were in the area for reasons other than those stated by the police; failure to do so implies guilt.

Lawyers and civil liberties groups argue the law reduce people's legal rights and is open to abuse by the police. Questions might also be raised as to what constitutes a "drug house" in police definitions, and why known "drug houses" continue operation while people outside are being arrested.

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