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Bikie gangs: outlawing the 'outlaws'

By Tim Meehan - posted Tuesday, 3 August 2010

It reads like the plot for a Hollywood Mafia movie. The police go to court armed with rushed legislation, and ask the courts to officially declare a particular group of people to be a criminal organisation.

If they can get the courts on side, police can then order the organisation be dismantled and anyone involved with it or associating with members can face prosecution.

Forget presumption of innocence, forget the onus on proving to a court that a person is guilty of specific illegal acts. In Australia now, there are laws being tested which could make a person guilty by association.


This is especially not a good time to be a motorcyclist and above all, not one associated with a motorbike club or group.

In a McCarthyesque frenzy of spin doctoring, legislators in various states around Australia have zeroed in on “outlaw bikie gangs” as the reason for vote-catching “get tough on crime” policies.

Unfortunately the crackdowns may sweep up innocent people and ruin livelihoods. Anyone riding a motorcycle or who is part of a motorcycle group or is providing services to a member of a motorcycle group is now vulnerable.

Recently the New South Wales police went to the Supreme Court to order the dismantling of the Hells Angels gang there and declare it an outlaw organisation, using tough new anti-bikie laws passed last year.

But in a surprise move the Hells Angels Club is now legally challenging the constitutionality of the state's so-called anti-bikie laws. The move is likely to delay the attempt by police to have the group declared a “criminal organisation”.

The High Court is already considering a challenge to similar laws in South Australia, brought by the South Australian government, which wants to overturn a Supreme Court decision ruling that the state's anti-gang laws are illegal. The High Court has reserved its decision. The state wanted to have a bikie gang there declared a criminal organisation.


Other states with similar legislation on their books are closely watching the New South Wales and South Australian moves. Queensland, whose legislators have often cloned other state laws, will be especially monitoring the saga.

It is politically fashionable at the moment to be “down” on so-called outlaw bikie gangs. The frenzy has influenced the Federal election campaign too, with the leaders spruiking their “crackdowns on crime” policies.

Tony Abbott went public with claims a very significant percentage of the drug trafficking in this country was gang related, promising a Coalition government would crack down on gang warfare.

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About the Author

Tim Meehan is a Brisbane criminal defence lawyer, and Managing Partner of Brisbane-based national criminal defence law firm Ryan and Bosscher Lawyers.

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