Gang patch bill too broad: Law Society

A law change to ban gang patches in schools, police stations and Work and Income offices could be too broad and accidently capture people who are innocently wearing gang colours, MPs have been told.

A select committee this morning heard submissions on National MP Todd McClay's bill, which would make it an criminal offence to wear gang insignia in government-owned premises.

Law Society human rights and privacy spokesman Robert Hesketh said insignia was too widely defined in the legislation and would capture clothing that was not intended to be intimidating.

The bill related not only to gang patches but coloured clothing associated with gangs.

The society felt the bill should not progress beyond the select committee stage but, if it did, it needed to be amended to tighten the definition.

Mr Hesketh noted that the bill clashed with the Bill of Rights Act because it was inconsistent with the right to freedom of expression.

"One is reminded of that time-honoured mantra that one may not agree with what another person expresses, but certainly the right to have and convey that expression is guaranteed by our Bill of Rights Act," he said.

Mr McClay, the MP for Rotorua, earlier told the committee that the bill was not a "silver bullet" but would reduce the influence of gangs.

"This bill is drafted to reduce intimidation, offer greater protection to victims and law-abiding citizens, and ... is to focus on the harm and significant misery that gangs cause throughout all communities in all parts of New Zealand."

He said the proposed law change was influenced by the community marches against gangs in Murupara, which took place after the murder of a youth who was killed because his school uniform was the colour of a rival gang in the region.

Mr McClay cited a submission by Whitireia Community Law Centre, which spoke of the stranglehold the Mongrel Mob gang had on an area of Porirua.

Two of the law centre's clients had been murdered by Mongrel Mob members, and staff had worked with a 12-year-old girl who had been pack-raped by a gang.

The centre's submisison said gang patches were a "conduit" in fuelling fear in the community.

The Police Association made a submission in support of the bill, saying it was part of suite of changes needed to undermine gangs.

- By Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald

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