I am more than a little surprised by the actions of several lawyers and politicians in calling for a stay in the Urewera 18 trials – frankly, they should know better. Watea News reports that Professor Jane Kelsey and Moana Jackson wrote to the Solicitor-General warning that the credibility of the legal system is at risk if trial goes ahead. These calls for a stay in proceedings were supported by Green Party leader Meteria Turei.
The only threat to the legal system arises from lawyers and politicians attempting to influence decisions of Crown Law. There are two aspects here that concern me. First, it goes against the ideal that justice should be conducted in an open Court, and not behind closed doors; and Second, politicians should not be seen to be interfering in the legal process.
Leaving aside the shocking nature of the raids back in October 2008, the accused have been waiting for 2.5 years for resolution. They are convinced of their innocence and a stay in proceedings denies them of the opportunity to have their day in Court and for the judicial system to throw the book at the police for their actions on that misty day in October. Let these issues be aired in public. Let every detail of the police case be torn apart by the defendants’ legal team. Let the general public see the wrong that has been committed on the people of Tuhoe. Justice not only needs to be done, it also needs to be seen to be done. Going to trial brings everything out into the light of day, and will hopefully show the people of Tuhoe, and Te Ao Maori generally, that our judicial system is fair, impartial, and can be trusted.
On the issue of Meteria Turei’s comments, it is a long-standing constitutional doctrine that politicians should not be seen to be interfering in the judicial process. We rely on an impartial Crown Law Office. While little harm will come from a call for a trial to be stayed, how damaging would it be to the perception of justice in Aotearoa if politicians began directing Crown Law to prosecute people. The common belief is that the Urewera raids were politically motivated and politically directed and there are already rumblings within Te Whanau-a-Apanui about potential political directives to police over the offshore exploration protests. We cannot allow any political interference in our legal system because to do so undermines the credibility of the system.