Wednesday, February 28, 2018

No place for secret trials in New Zealand

Secret trials with evidence hidden from the defendant are rightly viewed as a mark of tyranny, the sort of thing that happens in Iran or China. But one is happening right now in New Zealand:

A secret hearing was being held under tight security at the High Court in Wellington on Wednesday.

The case was so secret that it was not listed in any form on the court's list of fixtures for the day.

Access to the basement level courtroom was barred by court and other black-clad security staff. The usual access between a public cafe on that level, and the court building, was also stopped.

The court manager, Jane Penney, said Justice Robert Dobson had directed that it was a closed court, and media could not attend.

Stuff has suggested that the hearing is connected to A v Minister of Internal Affairs, and is a closed material proceeding where the government is presenting secret "evidence" to the judge which is withheld from the defence. If that is the case, it is abhorrent. Such procedures have been found repeatedly to violate the right to a fair trial, and the UK Supreme Court is on record as ruling that secret evidence "may positively mislead". Keeping secret, potentially misleading evidence from the defence prevents them from effectively challenging it or presenting reasonable explanations, effectively turning the hearing into a kangaroo court. That was certainly the view of the New Zealand public when the government tried to use such procedures against Ahmed Zaoui.

We should not tolerate this sort of process in New Zealand. Whichever law this is being held under must be repealed.