Thursday, April 08, 2010

Sore losers

That is the only way to describe the government and its plans to sue the Waihopai three for $1.1 million. Like it or not, these people won fairly and squarely in court, and were acquitted by a jury of their peers who had been (in the government's own admission) properly directed according to law. To then turn around and try and sue them for damages when you have already lost the criminal case smacks of both a refusal to accept the judgement of the court, and a desire to assert state power by persecuting and victimising those who embarrassed it.

Preventing this sort of persecution is exactly why we have the BORA ban on double jeopardy. But that only applies to repeated criminal prosecution. If the government puts you on trial and loses, they are apparently free to go back to court again and again under a lower standard of proof to try and bankrupt you instead. That's also unfair, and its something we should change (not least because it would prevent the government from making an end-run around the BORA and proper standards of evidence with things like asset forfeiture and ASBOs).

But apart from being utterly wrong, it is also pointlessly stupid. As the Waihopai three point out, they have no money. So, while the government may win a court victory, it won't actually gain the redress it seeks (but then, they're not so much after the money as the satisfaction of kicking their opponents in the face). But in addition to that, the defendants will also be eligible for legal aid, as they were in their criminal trials. And they will take it up and drag out the case for as long as possible, both purely to make it expensive and to provide them with a further platform. The net result will likely be a legal bill far in excess of anything the government could hope to gain.

Politicians and bureaucrats may think that their wounded pride is worth hundreds of thousands of dollars in legal fees. To the rest of us, it will just be a colossal waste of public money. And isn't that what National is trying to cut down on?