Detective Superintendent Debbie Wallace has declared that she will be going tough on bikers who repeatedly associate with those who have criminal records, which is an offence known as ‘consorting’.
Over the weekend, a total of 13 members of the Nomads Motorcycle Club were charged with criminal offences, and tough-talking Wallace says this is just the beginning.
The Nomads were meeting at their brand new clubhouse in Weatherill Park at about 7:45 on Friday, 30 January 2015.
The clubhouse was in the middle of a party, the kind of gathering Wallace claims is where members ‘hatch’ their criminal plans.
Seventeen people were arrested at the time, but four were released without charge.
Those arrested included the president of the club, Sleiman “Simon” Tajjour and his younger brother Mouhamed “Moudi” Tajjour.
Eleven were charged under consorting laws, and of the total thirteen charged, four were also charged with drug offences, traffic offences and weapons possession – the latter for carrying a knife.
Police also confiscated alcohol that they claim was being sold illegally.
All of the men were granted conditional bail but will be back to face courts in February.
The raid is just the start of many, according to Wallace.
She warns that anyone who is disobeying the law can expect the legislation to be enforced against them.
On the other hand, the lawyer for several of the Nomads believes that the crackdown has more to do with police politics than anything else.
He believes that the move is a distraction from the crumbling of the upper echelons of police ranks, after Deputy Police Commissioner Catherine Burn was found to have ran a secret bugging operation against the now Deputy Commissioner Nick Kaldas.
What is consorting?
Consorting is where a person habitually associates with two or more convicted offenders.
Section 93X(1) of the NSW Crimes Act says that consorting occurs when a person:
1. Habitually consorts with ‘convicted offenders’
2. Consorts with those ‘convicted offenders’ after being given an official warning in relation to consorting with each of them.
This official warning means that police must tell you that the person is a convicted offender and warn you that consorting with them is an offence.
The maximum penalty is 3 years imprisonment and/or a $16,500 fine.
What does habitually mean?
It means that the person must have consorted with at least 2 convicted offenders – either at the same time or different occasions; and the person must have consorted with each of them at least twice.
There are some defences to consorting, including if they are a family member, or if it is for lawful employment, training or education. It is also a defence if the association happens during the provision of health services, legal advice or to comply with a court order. It also excludes any associating that happens within lawful custody.
A ‘convicted offender’ does not include all people with criminal records, but it does cover anyone who has been convicted of ‘indictable offences’ – which are those that come with a maximum prison term of over 2 years. Most offences contained in the NSW Crimes Act are indictable offences.
The laws came into force in 2012 and aim to crack down on crimes associated with biker gangs, such as drug supply and gun violence.
History of the consorting laws
Consorting laws were used to help successfully end the ‘razor gang wars’ that dominated Darlinghurst in the 1920s.
But upon their reintroduction in 2012, they were the subject of a High Court challenge to have them ruled invalid.
Two members of the Nomads teamed up with an intellectually disabled man who was charged after going shopping and talking with his housemates.
These three men and the Human Rights Commission forged an unlikely alliance to challenge the laws.
Unfortunately for them, the High Court ruled that the controversial laws are valid, meaning that it is a crime for ‘convicted offenders’ to associate with each other, or even communicate via social media, phone or email.
The laws are a certainly a restriction to freedom of communication – but the High Court found that they are nevertheless valid.
The Australian Constitution contains very few rights, and even those that exist are not absolute rights. This means that it may be deemed appropriate for the government to make laws that infringe on our rights like freedom of speech if the measures are reasonably appropriate and adapted.
But many remain unconvinced that consorting should be a crime, saying that those who have served their time should be free to associate with others in society. It is argued that making this a crime further alienates and stigmatises those with previous convictions, when we should be encouraging them to integrate into society.
It is also argued that criminalising people for merely associating with others, without doing anything inherently wrong, is unfair and makes a mockery of the law.