I just heard something really stupid.  It’s a story about how telling the truth to the wrong people can be dangerous.

Someone from a well-known European country – a country that made it to the semi-finals of the 2011 Rugby World Cup – was in New Zealand on a Working Holiday Visa.  They went for a short trip to a Pacific Island.  When the got back to Auckland Airport they declared on their Arrival Card that they used to smoke marijuana.

I was told that they were searched but that they were not carrying any drugs.  They had a drugs test but there was nothing illegal in their system.  Yet it was decided that this person would be likely to commit an offence if they were allowed back into the country.  They were refused Entry Permission and, as far as I know, they were shipped out late last night back to that well-known European country.

There are two lessons that people can take from this episode.  The first is that it is safer to lie to Government officials than to be honest.  This is not a very palatable outcome, but if I found myself in the same position it would be a difficult ethical problem.

The second is really for the New Zealand Border officials, although they are hardly likely to read this.  Use your common sense.  I ask you, who is more likely to use drugs – someone who has freely admitted that they used to do it, or someone who conceals that fact?  Go figure.

The person who alerted me to this case was a friend of the victim who rang up distraught to ask if there was anything we could do.  I had to answer No, because Border Control has a very broad discretion to prevent people from entering New Zealand.  In the past I and some of my colleagues have tried to stop people from being “turned around”, but we have largely had to conclude that there is little point.  It is possible to file a Judicial Review with the Courts to challenge the validity of the decision; an application for Interim Orders preventing their removal in the meantime; or an application for Habeas Corpus to gain their release from Immigration detention (if they are deemed to be detained).  The trouble is:

  • such applications are inherently difficult just because of the wide discretion available to Border Control to decide to throw people out; and
  • while such proceedings are going on, the person will spend their time in a Police cell or in a remand prison.  I would never want to subject anyone to that unless I was confident of success.  In these cases that is simply not possible.

My informant told me that they will spread the word to their friends about this incident, and maybe get even wider publicity.  Although I did not encourage them to do so, quite frankly I wouldn’t blame them.  Others will learn that it is safer to conceal information from the authorities, and not to trust that any official in front of them will act in a sensible or practical manner.

Border Control can hardly complain if this happens.  They have directly contributed to the mess by their own callousness.