Mutual Assistance

What is mutual assistance?

Mutual assistance is the process countries use to provide and obtain formal government-to-government assistance in criminal investigations and prosecutions.

In New Zealand, mutual legal assistance is largely governed by the Mutual Assistance in Criminal Matters Act 1992 ("MACMA"). MACMA governs both requests made by New Zealand to other countries and requests made by other countries to New Zealand. Common forms of assistance provided include:

  • The identification and location of persons;
  • The obtaining of evidence, documents, or other articles;
  • The production of documents and other articles;
  • The making of arrangements for persons to give evidence or assist investigations;
  • The service of documents;
  • The execution of requests for search and seizure;
  • The forfeiture or confiscation of tainted property;
  • The recovery of pecuniary penalties in respect of offences;
  • The restraining of dealings in property, or the freezing of assets, that may be forfeited or confiscated; and
  • The location of property that may be forfeited, or used to satisfy penalty orders.

See further Forms of Assistance

Mutual assistance is separate from police-to-police, and other types of informal assistance. See further What is the difference between mutual assistance and police-to-police assistance?

Why do we need mutual assistance?

In an increasingly interdependent world, organised crime now transcends national borders. The mobility of criminals and the international effects of their activities have transformed international attitudes to the provision of mutual assistance in criminal matters. In addition, the effect of modern technology, for example, telephones, audiotapes and videotapes, video conferencing, and the increased ease of international travel, make it more possible for evidence to be obtained overseas without serious prejudice to the rights of the accused.

New Zealand needs to ensure that criminals cannot evade prosecution and confiscation action just because the evidence or proceeds of their crime are in different countries. This requires a responsive, streamlined mutual assistance system that effectively combats domestic and transnational crime, including terrorism, with appropriate safeguards.

When is a mutual assistance request made?

A mutual assistance request can be made in a wide range of scenarios. Examples include where a country seeks the following types of assistance:

  • assistance involving the use of coercive powers, such as a search warrant;
  • evidence for use in a criminal investigation or prosecution/trial; or
  • assistance for which the country concerned requires a formal mutual assistance request. For example most countries will not allow a prisoner to travel to another country to give evidence without a mutual assistance request.

For more information see Making Requests.