Media release from Wellington Community Law Centre
In their attempts to combat shoplifting, some New Zealand shops are ignoring the law and riding roughshod over customers’ rights, taking advantage of shoppers’ lack of legal knowledge.
The most common complaint to Community Law is that shop staff are flouting a shopper’s right not to be searched. Shop staff and/or security personnel are forcibly searching bags, and occasionally shoppers themselves, and misleading customers about their right to do so by putting up signs in-store.
“Our students are targeted for this sort of thing all the time”, says Sally Rye-Dunn, Centre Manager and Tutor at YMCA Wellington, a programme providing NCEA and transition to work programmes for young people. “Of course being treated like this makes life difficult for these young people. It’s distressing to see how our young people can be labelled and treated as thieves, when very often they have done nothing wrong.” Sally adds, “being labelled in this manner can trigger feelings of animosity towards people in authority, causing ongoing hostility and resentment.”
Kate Scarlet, a community lawyer at Community Law Wellington and Hutt Valley, agrees. “Recently we had a client who was caught shoplifting and returned the goods, but she was falsely imprisoned for a short period in the department store and then told she had to pay a fine, including the cost of paying security wages, as well as the cost of the goods, or debt collectors would come to her parents’ house and repossess her stuff. That’s just plain wrong.”
In response, a new chapter on ‘Shoplifting and the law’ has been incorporated into the Community Law Manual 2014-2015.
The chapter explains:
• whether stores have the right to search shoppers’ bags
• your rights if a shop accuses you of shoplifting
• what shops can do to recover compensation from you if they catch you shoplifting
• how shops can use trespass laws against people they believe are shoplifters.
About the Community Law Manual
The Community Law Manual is Community Law’s trail-blazing resource that helps Kiwis (and their advocates) help themselves. The latest edition is due for release tomorrow, Thursday 17 July. Community Law is the leading provider of free, trustworthy, plain-English legal information in New Zealand. We are also the only Aotearoa-wide provider of quality-assured free legal help: www.communitylaw.org.nz.