Misuse of Drugs Amendment Bill 2015

CLANT does not have a strong view on the provisions relating to the random searching of vehicles on declared drug transit routes.  No evidence that similar laws have been effective in South Australia has been provided, although it is acknowledged that the NT Bill provides for broader powers to police to conduct physical searches of apprehended vehicles than the existing South Australian legislation.  The proposed provisions may cause significant inconvenience for some motorists, but it is difficult to estimate the benefits to be achieved.  CLANT acknowledges the real threat that grave harm will result from the transport of prohibited drugs, including crystal methamphetamine, into remote communities.  Measures which effectively reduce the supply of prohibited drugs are part of the solution to the problem of drugs, but CLANT encourages the NT Government to take further steps to curb demand, by way of education and rehabilitation programs, particularly with respect to “ice”.

CLANT strongly opposes Clause 8 of the Bill, which would amend s40(c) of the Act, from:

(c) proof that a dangerous drug or precursor was at the material time in or on a place of which the person was:

(i) the occupier; or

(ii) concerned in the management or control,

is evidence that the drug or precursor was then in the person's possession unless it is shown that the person then neither knew nor had reason to suspect that the drug or precursor was in or on that place;

by replacing ‘evidence’ with ‘taken to be proof’.  In his second reading speech, the Attorney-General asserted that the current s40(c) “is presently being utilised to usurp the Misuse of Drugs Act”.  CLANT is concerned that the proposed provision usurps a fundamental pillar of the common law ­– the presumption of innocence.   The amendment would reverse the burden of proof.  In doing so, it raises a real risk that some accused persons who were in fact innocently unaware of the presence of the drugs found on their premises or in their car will be convicted of extremely serious crimes.  That would be grossly unjust.

Section 40(c) was carefully considered (but not criticised) by the Court of Criminal Appeal in Grosvenor v The Queen [2014] NTCCA 5 at [29] to [37].  It is well understood and applied by the courts.  CLANT considers that s40(c) in its current form strikes a reasonable balance between the applicable competing policy interests, and should not be amended.

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