Sunday, June 08, 2008

Past tense

"MPs outraged at bail for man with arsenal of guns" screams the Herald's headline. Apparently some loon who is currently awaiting sentence for shining lasers at interisland ferries had enough weapons for a small army, including pistols and military-style semi-automatics (both of which are illegal in new Zealand without th eproper licence). Several MPs are concerned about this, and claiming that the man is a threat to public safety who should have been locked up while waiting for trial.

But buried down on the second page of the article is this little line:

Long's firearms licence has been revoked.
Which is exactly what you'd expect when the police find someone with illegal weapons (and who doesn't store them properly to boot). But the upshot is that the Herald and those MPs are screaming over someone who used to have an arsenal; he doesn't have it any more. So, no threat to public safety at all - and thus no justification for pre-trial imprisonment.

As for Rodney Hide's argument that people should be denied bail based on the perceived seriousness of the crime, this constitutes punishment without trial. One of the reasons we regard bail as a human right, to be denied only in extreme circumstances where someone poses a significant risk of absconding, reoffending, or interfering with witnesses, is to avoid locking up innocent people for prolonged periods (which is what happens when someone is denied bail and then acquitted). I would expect someone who leads "the liberal party" to care about things like that. But apparently, Hide doesn't; all he cares about is appearing tough on crime and justice be damned. Some "liberal".

Update: Graeme Edgeler points out that the accused has pleaded guilty and is currently awaiting sentencing, rather than trial. But in these cases, whether bail is granted depends on the likelihood of a custodial sentence. And the reason for that ought to be pretty obvious: because sticking people in jail when they do not deserve it and are not sentenced to it is grossly unjust. While we may think these offences are serious (and the arms offences carry a three year prison term), clearly the judge did not feel certain enough that there would be jail time to justify starting it early.

And while I'm on the subject, I suggest that both Hide and Nick Smith go away and look up "seperation of powers" in the dictionary. There's a reason we have an independent judiciary and a convention of politicians not criticising it, and it is precisely to prevent the sort of mob justice Smith and Hide are trying to whip up.