The Queensland Government’s proposed Serious and Organised Crime Bill has the potential to re-shape the legal and justice system, after Labor commissioned a review of the organised crime laws in 2015.
The Labor party promised to review Queensland’s organised crime laws during their pre-election campaign, capitalising on the former Liberal governments unpopular VLAD laws.
The review was undertaken by the task-force on organised crime legislation which was lead by former Supreme Court judge Alan Wilson, alongside individuals from the Queensland Police Service, the Bar Association of Queensland, the Queensland Law Society and the Department of Justice and Attorney-General.
The scope of expertise on the task-force ensured a comprehensive analysis of the Queensland legislation, with the recommendations listed either being implemented in full or at least in principal.
If passed through parliament the bill will form the cornerstone of the Labor governments organised crime regime, but it faces considerable resistance from the opposition after calling for the repealing of the VLAD laws in their entirety.
“Labor has got to where it is by talking tough on bikies but passing totally ineffective laws. The bikies know that they will be weaker and they are out there recruiting. The lawyers know that they are going to be weaker and they are madly delaying their cases as a result. Queenslanders know they are going to be weaker because Labor is notoriously soft on crime” – The shadow Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Mr Ian Walker
The LNP has raised several issues with the proposed bill such as the banning of gang colours and the issuing of control orders, with concerns that the proposed laws won’t deter organised criminal motorcycle gangs from conducting illegal operations.
However the data from the task-forces’ report and the Organised Crime Commission of Inquiry (the Byrne report) indicates that organised criminal motorcycle gangs equate to only 1% of reported crimes across the state, the same as it was during the introduction of the VLAD laws.
The statistics also showed that since its introduction only two people were fully sentenced under the VLAD law regime, neither of which had known connections to organised criminal motorcycle gangs.
The VLAD laws whilst at first glance ineffective weren’t designed to secure serious convictions, but instead designed to target the structure of criminal organisations.
The aggravated offences under the VLAD law regime would see the individual spend another fifteen years behind bars if convicted under the regime, but individuals could have this waived if they provided substantial information to the police commissioner.
This proved problematic however for two reasons, firstly establishing beyond reasonable doubt that the accused was a ‘vicious lawless associate’ at the time of the offense was troublesome and secondly there are concerns that an aggravated sentence regime such as the VLAD laws would incite those apprehended to provide false information in hopes of receiving a softer conviction.
The Attorney General and Minister for Justice Yvette D’Nath stated whilst introducing the bill that,”the regime in this bill is built to withstand all stages of the criminal justice system and, ultimately, is designed to secure actual convictions of serious and organised criminals, which will act as a strong deterrent factor against future criminal activity.”
Labor has retained certain elements of the aggravated offences regime within their proposal, but differentiates in terms of the sentencing severity and the grounds of which an aggravated sentence can be issued, instead leaving it to the sentencing judge to determine if information provided to intelligence services is sufficient enough to waive the aggravated sentence.
The move from Labor indicates a shift in the state’s approach to organised crime, with the new aggravated offences concentrating on activities associated with the operations of criminal organisations, instead of directly targeting the organisation itself.
The shift also widens the scope of law enforcement agencies’ agendas as new offences target all forms of organised crime such as boiler room fraud, child pornography rings and provides law enforcement with the capacity to issue control orders designed to deter and prevent individuals participating in organised criminal activities to continue their operations.
The bill is predicted to be voted upon within the coming weeks and if successfully passed through parliament will amend over thirty-three pieces of legislation relating to organised crime.