Australian motorcycle gang challenges criminal law in court

CANBERRA Tue Dec 4, 2012 9:25am IST

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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.

The most recent count of "outlaw" motorcycle gangs by the Australian Crime Commission said there were around 39 clubs across Australia with a rising membership of around 4,000. The Finks have several hundred members.

The Finks' lawyers told members to wear business suits rather than club leathers to the High Court, cover up tattoos and leave their high-powered motorcycles at home.

Another legal loss would be a setback for Australian authorities anxious to crack down on gang crime, which has been on the rise in recent years.

Motorcycle gangs gained notoriety, and have been under increased scrutiny, since six gang members and an onlooker were killed in a 1984 shootout in a Sydney hotel carpark known as The Fathers Day Massacre.

In 2009, members of the Comanchero Motorcycle Club and the Hells Angels clashed violently at Sydney's main airport, with one bashed to death in front of horrified onlookers.

The court will not hand down a decision until early 2013.

(Editing by Paul Tait)

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