National's plan to make gang members cover face tattoos with foundation 'ludicrous', expert says

The National Party's plan to force gang members to cover facial tattoos with foundation has been described as "ridiculous" by a legal expert, who said it would pose practical and legal issues.   

National was vocal during the election campaign about its pledge to crack down on organised crime, which included banning gang patches in public.   

Since the election, Mark Mitchell, who is expected to be the next Police Minister, has touted the idea of making people with gang facial tattoos wear foundation in public or face arrest.   

He raised this idea during an interview with RNZ, saying "if the gangs think that they’re going to get around a ban on gang patches by having swastikas and offensive tattoos on their faces, then we’ll take action to curb that".   

But this plan has come under fire and may face legal challenges, with veteran legal academic and retired lecturer Dr Bill Hodge telling Newshub the idea is "ridiculous" and "ludicrous".   

"I've got a lot of respect for Mark Mitchell, but I think the possibility of requiring a form of make-up, whether it's a base in foundation on people for what they have historically had on their body, on their face has got intrinsic and pragmatic and human rights issues," he said.    

"The pragmatic issue, what happens if the person gets caught in the rain? What happens if it starts to run? What happens if they don't have a make-up artist in the gang... it verges on the ludicrous in some respects."   

Dr Hodge's comments come after Tokoroa lawyer Arama Ngapo confirmed to Newshub she's been asked by "certain members" of the Mongrel Mob to investigate the legality of National's plan.    

"Any legislation that tells people what they can and cannot do with their body in my opinion is a clear breach of the Bill of Rights," Ngapo told Newshub.  

"I don't think you can 'Thin-Lizzy' the problems that we have relating to crime away and it completely ignores the fact that we have lots of really serious issues in this country that can't be covered up by make-up."    

Tokoroa lawyer Arama Ngapo.
Tokoroa lawyer Arama Ngapo. Photo credit: Newshub

Dr Hodge said the potential policy seems to be fraught with impossible practicalities and human rights issues because it's retrospective.   

"You're requiring somebody to do something in response to something that was quite lawful when they did it," he said.    

He also questioned how police would enforce this.    

"Will each police car carry foundation so the gang member can repair it if they got caught in the rain so it began to run? It looks like Rudy Giuliani getting caught in the rain with his hair dye. So there are all sorts of practical problems," he said.    

It's also raised questions about what tattoos would be covered under the policy and if there will be a list of words that are banned.    

"I mean if it says 'peace' or 'love' is that going to be criminal? So that's just the beginning. Those are totally legitimate questions and that's just the beginning of a difficult journey that Mark [Mitchell] is setting out on," Dr Hodge told Newshub.   

He believes there could be better ways to tackle the issue, including taking away government benefits.    

"Another angle they could consider is that someone who was seeking a government benefit like an employment benefit or unemployment benefit, they cannot present themselves to a prospective employer while their face is disfigured with, for example, a swastika in the middle of the forehead, which probably makes them unemployable," he said.    

"So you can deprive certain benefits instead of making it a punishment, but I suspect there's going to be issues with the Bill of Rights, there's going to be issues with practicality."   

Dr Hodge wants to see Mitchell and National focus their gang crackdown on firearms and the proceeds of crime.   

Mitchell told Newshub National's policy does not include banning tattoos, but he is aware of Mongrel Mob members saying they will "use face and neck tattoos to expose the public to their patches and gang insignia".    

"I have highlighted the way the Western Australia Government dealt with gang tattoos was to ban them," he said.    

"They have successfully charged and convicted gang members for displaying gang tattoos in public. I'm confident that our current policy will reduce gang intimidation of the public."   

Western Australia passed laws in 2021 against gang tattoos. Police there also said gang members could wear makeup to hide them. The first convictions were handed out earlier this year.