Wednesday, August 06, 2003

My thoughts on Ahmed Zaoui

Isn’t life interesting in little old New Zealand? One minute you think you live in a free country where the authorities never do anything dodgy and the next you're looking at the case of Ahmed Zaoui and wondering if Helen Clark has been itching to try on a pair of jackboots all this time.

The other parties in parliament, with the exception of the Greens, are of course trying to out do each other to see who can be the most wrong-headed over all this. Winston Peters’ thoughts on the matter were typically disgusting. To be fair though, his confusion about the difference between being guilty of terrorism and merely being suspected of terrorism could all be due to the effects of a late night on Courtenay Place.

National's Foreign Affairs spokesman Dr Wayne Mapp has accused the government of wasting money on legal aid on Mr Zaoui and has suggested that we may need to change the law regarding whether "suspect refugees" (an odious phrase if ever there was one) can appeal a finding against them.

I think Dr Mapp is really on to something here. Refusing refugees the right of appeal would save the taxpayer piles of money and as our Government and justice system are completely infallible, these appeals are an outrageous and unnecessary drain on the public purse. Well done Dr Mapp!

Sarcasm aside, the idea of cutting legal aid and the right of appeal seems to be a popular one with the "right wing, hang ‘em high brigade" but in effect what they are advocating is not cutting dollars but cutting justice.

Never one to quit while he was ahead, Dr Mapp, while making some valid points on the structure of the appeals process in his press release, goes on to suggest that

"The Government can't expect New Zealanders to accept that it is sensible in such circumstances to spend so much money on helping a person who is not even a New Zealand resident."

Call me naive but I believe that a person deserves a fair trial as a basic human right regardless of whether they happen to have a NZ passport and the money for a shit hot lawyer or not. I don’t particularly want to live in a country where guilt or innocence is decided by the depth of ones pockets. If this costs taxpayers money… well tough shit… its worth remembering that although today its some refugee or criminal receiving legal, tomorrow it could just as easily be you or I. Justice is not something you can just cut corners on.

Getting back to Zaoui. The man deserves a fair trial and this includes the right to know what you are accused of, who your accusors are and for this to be made public. From time to time there may be cases where this information can’t be made public, but the reasons have to be spectacularly good and even then the decision has to be justified. This has not happened here.

The SIS issued a security risk assessment certificate on the grounds that Zaoui posed a threat to security, public order or public interest. Unfortunately Mr Zaoui and his lawyers are not entitled to see any of the "classified security information", or know who provided it. How in god’s name are they supposed to defend their client when they don’t have this information? Can you say "kangaroo court"? The Government and the SIS has made no attempt to justify their decision and unless they do so I can’t help but think that they are committing a huge injustice here. This just isn't the way we are supposed to do things in New Zealand.