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State Government to close loophole in anti-bikie legislation to reduce risk of challenges by gang lawyers



BY: NIGEL HUNT
Source: theaustralian.com.au

Australia - THE State Government will today act to close a potential loophole in its controversial anti-bikie legislation to reduce the risk of challenges by gang lawyers.

The pre-emptive strike - which is the second time the legislation has been amended - will now clear the way for police to lodge applications in the Supreme Court to have several gangs declared criminal organisations.

The applications have been held up after concerns stemming from a High Court judgment in March.

Attorney-General John Rau will today introduce amendments to the Serious and Organised Crime (Control) Act that will "fine tune" elements of it - principally concerning the appointment process for a judge to hear the application - ahead of the looming police action.

Mr Rau said he hoped to have the SOCCA Amendment Bill dealt with by the end of this month to enable police to quickly move against the gangs and reduce the risk of a lengthy appeal that would delay any outcome.

"I thought it was pretty well bulletproof before, but this probably adds an additional degree of safety to it," Mr Rau said.

"Given how much work police do in getting one of these applications prepared, every little bit of safety we can build into the process is worth it.

"It would be a tragedy if they went through all of that effort and then got knocked over on a technicality."

The Advertiser revealed in March that senior police were on the brink of lodging applications in the Supreme Court to have the Finks, Hells Angels and Rebels outlawed.

The applications - the Finks will be the first - will be the first since the Supreme Court and then High Court in 2010 ruled the government's anti-bikie legislation invalid, forcing it to heavily amend key sections.

Those amendments - the most significant removing the Attorney-General from the declaration process and placing it with the Supreme Court - were passed in June last year and police have been working on the applications since then. They were stalled following an appeal in the High Court in March initiated by the Finks in Queensland. The Finks appealed against a Queensland Supreme Court decision to outlaw the gang there.

While the the High Court decision upheld the Queensland Supreme Court decision, it highlighted several areas in the legislation that needed amendment.

Mr Rau said a thorough examination of the High Court judgment by Solicitor-General Martin Hinton, QC, had established there were potential areas that could possibly be appealed in the amended SA SOCCA legislation - the major one being the appointment process for the judge hearing the application.

"This is fine tuning on legal points," he said.

The key section that will be amended concerns the appointment by the Chief Justice of an "eligible judge" to hear the police application lodged against any gang.

The amendment will see the court appoint a judge, rather than one being appointed by the Chief Justice. This will bring the legislation into line with that in NSW, the NT and Victoria which is also adopting that method.

Other minor amendments will see provision for an approved person to make oral or written submissions to the court during any application, provision for that person to be cross examined and for a person to make an application for any declaration made by the court to be revoked.

Another amendment will allow the police application and supporting affadavits made available to any person "the court considers" should be provided with the opportunity to inspect them.


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