Thursday, January 25, 2007

Taito Phillip Field and the right to silence

So, suspended Labour MP Taito Phillip Field is now refusing to be interviewed by the police. National is of course outraged, and trying to blame Helen Clark for it (of course. As opposition, they'd blame the government for the weather if they thought it would stick). Meanwhile, since it has so obviously slipped John Key's mind, I thought I'd remind people again: we have a right to silence in this country, and no-one, no matter who they are or what they are accused of, has to talk to the police. As the subject of a criminal investigation, Field is merely exercising that right - a right which exists to protect people from abuses of power and society from a police force which forces "confessions" - and he has every right to do so.

Meanwhile, I'm sure that Key's statement that "If Mr Field has nothing to hide, he would have no problem speaking to the police" will be very useful to Field's lawyer if he is every prosecuted, in arguing that he cannot possibly receive a fair trial due to widespread pronouncements from authority figures and assumptions about his guilt.

From what we've already seen about Field, we can conclude that he's not fit to be in Parliament. But it would be better for politicians to stand back and let the police conduct their investigation, rather than wading in and potentially undermining both it, and our human rights.


Agree absolutely ... the right to silence (and the associated notion of a right not to incriminate oneself) applies to all, even if they are on the public payroll. Too bad the media reporting on every non-event in this case so far can't fathom this basic principle, and just parrots Key's line (now picked up by Andew Little too).

Another issue is that after many months (six?) the police haven't even asked for an interview, or shown any indication that they are getting closer to a decision about whether or not to prosecute. We're not talking some intricate "crime of the century" here. Your average "CSI" plot is more comlicated.


Posted by Anonymous : 1/26/2007 08:50:00 AM

Of course Field has the right to silence, that doesn't mean that a refusal to publically account for his actions, or a refusal to co-operate with Police isn't something the public or the Labour Party can take cogniscence of.

Field has every right not to talk to police, no judge or jury has any right to make any inference from a failure to do so. Key has every right to call on Field to assist, and we have every right to be appalled if he doesn't assist.

The right to silence is a right that can be waived, as is the case with most rights. People have a right to free religion - it does not undermine that right if I try to convert someone to Atheism. John Key wants Field to waive his right to silence, so do I, so, I suspect, do most people. If John Key called on those responsible for the CYFSwatch 'blog to moderate their stance on naming would you accuse him of undermining free speech?

Also, your suggestion that the remarks of John Key are sufficient to obtain a stay of prosecution is laughable. Judges and juries in NZ are made of sterner stuff than to be undermined by the remarks of any politician, least of all one who's never been in Government.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 1/26/2007 09:18:00 AM

It is rather predictable, Field is stonewalling so he can stay on the parliamentry payroll as long as possible.

Natural self interest, I would call it.

He knows he will never get elected again. His actions are all about deluding himself and his family that there is no crime and that Field is a victim of cultural incompatability.


Posted by Lawrence of Otago : 1/26/2007 09:54:00 AM

Graeme - hypothetically, if you were under investigation, I could wish that you would waive your right to prosecution. My interest in your case might be that of a taxpayer wishing to minimize expense and see a swift conclusion to the case. Perhaps I would castigate you in the press, and criticize your boss for not firing you in the interim.

I have the "right" to do such things, but it wouldn't meant that I wasn't full of shit. Equally, if I was under investigation, I'd hope that you'd respect my preferences for talking (or not), and just keep out.

I think the point NRT was making was not that judges would see any subsequent trial as unfair, but that Field's lawyer would certainly try to argue this. He/she would be remiss not to.

Field certainly wants to hang on to his $2000/week salary, but he doesn't need a reason for maintaining silence.

In any case, PC Plod hasn't even asked to interview him!


Posted by Anonymous : 1/26/2007 11:03:00 AM

I think the argument is that in this case we have an MP under investigation for corruption as an MP.

Most importantly, the MP wishes to remain an MP. People like John Key have formed the view that the remaining an MP bit and the refusing to be interviewed by police bit are incompatible. It is a reasonable and reasoned view.

Posted by Graeme Edgeler : 1/26/2007 11:55:00 AM

I wonder if any of you realise that Field was prepared to speak to the police and help in their investigation and had arranged itnerviews with the police on three previous occassions. However, each time the police cancelled because they were not ready. I think you can appreciate that he is in a very stressful situation and being 'musked around' by the police only added to his anxiety. As a result, he was advised by his legal team to exercise his right to remain silent... and to this day, the police have not requested an interview.

Posted by Anonymous : 2/16/2007 01:59:00 PM