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Victorian lawyers blast weapons bill

Victorian lawyers blast weapons bill

A peak body representing the Victorian legal profession has fired criticism at the government’s control of weapons amendment bill, asking it to withdraw it from Parliament.

The Law Institute of Victoria said it has supported the Human Rights Commissioner's concerns about the Control of Weapons Amendment Bill.

The Victorian Equal Opportunity and Human Rights Commissioner, Dr Helen Szoke, this week expressed concerns about the bill, which was due to be debated yesterday.

“When the powers were introduced, the Government justified this incompatibility with the Charter on the grounds of the community’s expectations for public safety and perceptions of an increase in knife-related crime,” Szoke said.

“Only six months on and the Victorian Government is already considering extending these anti-weapons laws, which are already some of the toughest in Australia – without any evidence to support the need for these extended powers or the incremental increase in police powers.”

The LIV is now urging the government to withdraw it to allow for amendments to protect children and those with an intellectual disability.

"Whilst the community needs to be protected from knife violence, the Government has gone overboard with this Bill," LIV president Steven Stevens said.

Research shows that young people who carry knifes for protection are a different group from those who commit knife violence offences, the LIV said.

"Children over the age of 16 and those with an intellectual disability could be caught up in the net of those with criminal convictions if they exercise their right to go to court to challenge a fine for carrying a knife,” Stevens said.

Stevens noted that it will be up to the person charged to prove that they have the knife for a lawful excuse, such as working as a chef. The fine of $1000 is also a hefty penalty for young people who are not earning an income.

Stevens said the LIV was also concerned that the Bill watered down the rights of children and people with a disability to have an independent adult present during an "unplanned" designated search.

"The provision now says that any person, other than the member of the police force conducting the search, can supervise a search. which is not going to provide independent oversight as currently exists," he said.

"Parents and carers should be concerned about the possibility of their child being stopped, questioned by the police and searched in the presence of an unknown person, even going to and from school," he said.

The Bill also removes the requirements for police to maintain records of people searched and extends surprise knife searches to areas such as train stations.

"We believe the current Bill contains draconian provisions that breach our Charter of Human Rights and should be withdrawn and reconsidered," he said.

The LIV's submission is available at www.liv.asn.au.



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