Saturday, January 08, 2011


Stuff reports today that at least some of the Urewera 18 are appealing against the decision to deny them a jury trial. Good. The right to a jury trial in serious cases is fundamental in New Zealand, and affirmed by the Bill of Rights Act. While there has been a limited exception to that right since 2008, we were told it would apply only in cases of complex fraud, not ordinary criminal cases. Any use of that exception needs to be carefully examined to ensure it does not undermine justice, or the justice system.

(Unfortunately I cannot say more as all details of the judge's reasoning are suppressed. This does not benefit justice. But it does benefit the judge, who gets to prevent public scrutiny and criticism of a highly controversial decision).

The appeal will almost certainly lead to a further delay in the trial, currently tentatively scheduled for May 2011, three and a half years after the raids were conducted. That seems to be part of the government's strategy. As in the case of Ahmed Zaoui, they are engaging in unconscionable conduct, and then blaming the defendants for standing up for their fundamental right to a fair trial. This too calls the justice system into disrepute. And if it goes on long enough, there's a real chance that the passage of time will make a fair trial impossible. And we all lose if that happens.