How often do you go out with your friends? Meet up for coffee? Send a txt or chat online?
Now imagine if these everyday activities were made illegal. It is outrageous to think that could happen, but for some people it does. In NSW under section 93X of the Crimes Act 1900 (NSW) it is an offence to habitually consort, either in person or electronically, to two people who have been convicted of an indictable offence on two or more occasions. The law stipulates that if you are found to be associating with convicted offenders you can be issued with an official warning. There is a maximum penalty of three years in jail and/or a $16,500 fine if you continue to associate with the offenders after a warning is issued.
There is a defence to section 93X covered in section 93Y, this section provides that consorting laws do not apply to consorting with family members or consorting in the course of employment, education, obtaining legal services or medical services. The purpose of this offence is, we are told, to stop organised crime directed at motorcycle gangs. However, these laws do effect the vulnerable as well, and are signs of things to come.
The decision to issue a warning is up to the police, yet another discretionary power that goes unregulated. The NSW Commander of the Gangs Squad Superintendent Deb Wallace claims her officers are using these powers narrowly and carefully yet a 13-year-old was charged with consorting in 2013. There are also some local command areas seeing Aboriginals account for 85% of issued consorting warnings.
It is worth highlighting that there is no time limit in the legislation on how long ago the indictable offence was committed. This means if the person committed the offence as a reckless 18-year-old and the individual is now over 30 years of age, this is not taken into consideration. The “convicted offenders” are essentially serving a lifelong punishment under these laws. Not only have they served their time in prison but they are being released into a society where they will be ostracised because people will be too afraid to socialise with them due to these consorting laws.
So what options do members or associates of motorcycle gangs have? Live a life of isolation and associate with nobody? This is their predicament: if they associate with fellow ‘bikie’ members, they risk a charge of consorting, but if they associate with non-convicted individuals they put that person at risk of a consorting warning or charge. The police and government are subcategorising convicted offenders, separating them for society and discouraging association with them. These ‘laws’ deny citizens the social connections which are crucial for reintegration into the community. Every individual should be entitled to the same civil liberties and freedom.
These laws have received objections from both the Law Society and Legal Aid Australia noting that there are already existing laws and powers capable of targeting organised crime without restricting the freedom of association and expression.
Know Your Rights