Crime-buster laws on the way

In a crackdown on organised crime, Tasmanian courts will be empowered to seize property from suspected criminals without first having to convict them.

Under the state's first "unexplained wealth" laws, people suspected of amassing assets through crime will be asked to justify the wealth in court.

If a judge is unconvinced by the evidence, the person will be ordered to pay the unexplained amount to the state.

A draft of the bill says judges should look at a person's income and expenses when deciding whether the wealth is lawful.

Other states have introduced the laws in order to tackle gang-related crime, including bikie gangs.

The proceedings will occur in the Supreme Court's civil division, meaning criminal convictions will not be needed before property can be seized.

Attorney-General Brian Wightman plans to introduce the amendments in May.

Mr Wightman said that if people could not demonstrate that they had acquired their wealth by lawful means, the Supreme Court could make an unexplained wealth declaration, rendering them liable to the state for a sum of money equal to the value of the unexplained component of their wealth.

"The provisions are seen as an important new tool in the fight against organised crime," he said.

"The main objective is to disrupt and deter serious organised crime."

He said forgoing the need for a conviction made it easier to target organised crime.

"Senior organised crime figures seldom carry out the crimes themselves and are not always able to be directly linked to specific offences," he said.

The changes will be retrospective, in the sense that they capture property that a person may no longer own.

Someone else's property may also be seized if it is controlled by the person named in a unexplained wealth declaration.

Jointly owned property can also be wholly seized, even if one owner has nothing to with the proceedings, if it cannot be divided.

The amendments will allow police to ask magistrates and judges to slap restraining orders on property they believe has not been acquired legally.

A person who breaches the order, by trying to sell or get rid of the property, for example, faces a maximum five years' jail.

The bill comes with strict secrecy requirements that also carry jail terms for breaches.

Mr Wightman said the bill contained safeguards to balance fighting organised crime with civil freedoms.

Unlike other jurisdictions, homes and land will not be subject to confiscation just because a crime has been committed on them.

If the amendments pass, Queensland will be the only state without unexplained wealth laws.

The measure comes after the federal government announced Australia's first national anti- gang legislation last week.

Prime Minister Julia Gillard said the aim was to stop organised crime exploiting states with weak anti-gang laws.

Ms Gillard has also asked the states to refer their unexplained-wealth laws to the Commonwealth.

Mr Wightman reassured the public that safeguards were built into the bill to provide checks and balances between the policy of combating the power of organised crime and the preservation of civil freedoms.


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