The Victorian government’s unexplained wealth law abolishes the presumption that you are innocent before proven guilty of a crime. The law should be opposed by every Victorian.
Under the new law, if police suspect you of acquiring property unlawfully, you will lose it if they apply to a Court. The law does not require police to prove their suspicions. Quite the opposite: the onus is on you to prove that you lawfully acquired your property. If you don’t keep receipts, if you paid cash, or if you don’t remember how you bought your property, or if you don’t want to undergo the public embarrassment, stress and expense of proving your innocence in court, then you are in strife.
For example, suppose that an elderly woman is stopped for speeding by police. The woman has a large sum of cash in her purse. She may distrust banks, or get paid in cash. Marijuana is found on her person. She is a recreational user. The woman is arrested. There is a reasonable suspicion that she is a marijuana dealer: she has marijuana and large amount of cash in her possession. The cash is confiscated. No charges are laid. This elderly woman now has two options. She can contest the order on the basis that she is guilty until proven innocent, or lose the money. She cannot even use the money to fund her legal defence.
This woman may not have time to prepare herself for court. She will get no notice of the application nor be entitled to contest it unless the court is satisfied that she should have that basic legal right. She will have about two weeks to give a written, sworn statement explaining whether she owns the property in question. It doesn’t matter if this information is self-incriminating. The right to silence is gone. If she doesn’t contest the order in six months, she will lose her property. She cannot elect to have a jury hear her case as with other allegations of criminal offending.
Those who deal in legal, if poorly recorded, transactions will be more vulnerable under these laws. This includes small business people or casual workers who earn money ‘cash-in-hand.’ So these laws will affect everyone but they will hit the most vulnerable hardest.
Worse, if the police reasonably suspect that you have engaged in “serious criminal activity”, it is not even necessary for them to even suspect that the property was unlawfully acquired. All your wealth and assets are up for grabs if you are in this special category of presumed offenders. It doesn’t matter if your offending has nothing to do with your property. This is simply draconian.
The government should only be entitled to take your property if it has proven at a trial that you have acquired it unlawfully beyond reasonable doubt. Anything less is state-sponsored persecution.
Vladimir Vinokurov is a solicitor and a member of the Liberal Democratic Party, a party devoted to promoting civil liberties.