Partners of welfare cheats will be liable for prosecution under a law change announced this afternoon, and could face a year in jail or a $5000 fine.Farrar calls this a "useful change". Except it's not a change at all. I pointed this out over at his place, where I commented thus:
Associate social development minister Chester Borrows announced three new initiatives to clamp down on relationship fraud in the welfare system, which was believed to cost Government more than $20 million a year.
A new offence will be created to target partners or spouses of beneficiaries who are convicted of fraud.
"Currently there are few options available to prosecute partners who know or benefit from such offending, leaving the entire debt with one partner," Mr Borrows said.
He said prosecuting partners who benefitted from welfare fraud would ensure both parties who profited from the crime were punished, and the debt could be split between the two partners and recovered more quickly.
The ability to prosecute already exists: http://www.legislation.govt.nz/act/public/1961/0043/latest/DLM328506.html?search=sw_096be8ed809832a0_parties_25&p=1&sr=10And then I went on:
I am very concerned about the further move to charge people based on doing nothing about it. We have seen it with the changes to the child violence laws, and now this. What next – going to jail for failing to stop someone from committing suicide?
I think we are completely arse-about-face on all of this.
Maybe you’re right, Nigel. But for centuries the criminal law has never interfered in the actions of people who stand by and do nothing about a crime being committed, because the criminality involves the actus reus of an offence – the actual physical act of doing something. In certain circumstances omissions are a crime, but they are rare.Which is the point of this post. I really don't like where this and the dob-in-a-child-abuser law is taking us. They're more knee-jerk reactions, like the removal of provocation as a defence, where politics is more important than philosophy.
For example, someone might be chased down the street with a man carrying a knife. You see it. They stop in front of you. The offender stabs the victim to death. You do nothing and walk away. You do not assist at all. You have not committed an offence, despite how repugnant your inaction might be.
The current government has not only done away with the failure to act in the cases of child abuse (i.e. failing to do anything about it is now a crime, even though you are not the offender yourself), they are now proposing that a partner who may not be involved at all in the welfare crime being charged!
These people could quite easily be parties, or accessories under s 71, except spouses and de-facto partners are exempt as accessories. This is because, presumably, the spouse is not a competent or compellable witness in any case against his/her spouse.
This raises a very interesting dilemma actually: If the spouse or de facto partner is an associated defendant in the welfare crime (which it seems they will be) they are not compelled to give evidence against their co-defendant spouse. So, for evidence purposes, this change means nothing as well.
I just don’t like where all of this is going
I'll finish this post by plagiarising myself again from Kiwiblog on the politics v philosophy point:
They’re making it politically more sellable/palatable when they do get a conviction, or when someone is charged with it. Then Paula Bennett or Chester Borrows can beat their chests and say at election time “we are bloody tough on crime and benefit fraudsters. Here’s what we did”.
That is easy. It is much more difficult for the Minister to ask police to enforce the current law (section 66) because then he/she is seen as politically interfering in the operation aspects of policing; and/or is not separating his/her executive powers very well. That is a problem for the government.
Passing a pointless law and standing on a stage at election time proudly pronouncing how tough on crime you are isn’t.
Of course, when reparation is ordered against said welfare "cheats", the government won't have this problem.