Australian motorcycle gang challenges criminal law in court

Mon Dec 3, 2012 10:55pm EST
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By Rob Taylor

CANBERRA (Reuters) - A motorcycle gang in Australia, where such groups have been targeted over violence and drug trafficking, has challenged the constitutionality of a law that would make it easier to declare them a criminal gang.

Leaders of the Finks, whose motto is "Attitude with Violence", have asked Australia's highest court to overturn laws they say are draconian and threaten civil freedoms.

Under the laws, police in tropical Queensland state have sought to have the Finks declared a criminal gang. Similar laws have been used elsewhere in Australia.

"This legislation can be used against any organization which the police or the government may target to say they are criminal in nature," Finks lawyer Bill Potts told reporters ahead of the two-day challenge in the High Court of Australia.

"We say it's a law too far, it's a law that's unnecessary. We say that in total that large sections of it are in fact unconstitutional," he said.

The laws have been successfully challenged by other gangs, including the Hells Angels, in two other states, New South Wales and South Australia, frustrating governments who have tried to link rival gangs to the illicit drugs trade, trafficking of illegal firearms, robbery, murder, extortion and prostitution.

New South Wales and South Australia subsequently recast their laws after the High Court decided that new powers allowing lower court judges to hear evidence in secret and to prevent legal appeals went too far under the Australian Constitution.

In their latest challenge, the Finks said the new laws were unnecessarily punitive because existing state laws were sufficient to deal with criminal behavior.   Continued...