Wednesday, April 06, 2011

More on the Urewera 18

Radio New Zealand has a discussion this morning [audio] with lawyer Grant Illingworth on the decision to deny the Urewera 18 a jury trial. Unfortunately, its rather difficult to discuss a judicial decision when the reasoning behind it is suppressed. But one thing is clear: both Illingworth and interviewer Kathryn Ryan think there is a strong public interest in a jury trial in this case. And I agree.

Meanwhile, Brian Rudman raises the issue in the Herald, pointing out that

The justice system, by compounding the atmosphere of secrecy and intrigue that has dogged this case for nearly four years, has now made a rod for its own back. Whatever the reality, the courts now risk being seen as part of this whole sorry saga.


The problem for the justice system in this case is that in an attempt, presumably, to ignore the political storm swirling around this case it has become a part of the political debate, whether it wanted to or not.

To help maintain the integrity of the justice system and avoid being caught up in the political backlash, the judges should have used the discretion at their disposal to opt for the jury trial.

Rudman is right. The decision not to do so, and to grant the crown a judge-only trial fundamentally undermines the credibility of the entire process. We can only hope that the decision is appealed, and that the Supreme Court makes the right decision and upholds the right to trial by jury. Otherwise there is a real danger of seeing a tainted trial, and a tainted verdict.