Monday, February 13, 2012

The Urewera trial

Over four years ago, on October 15 2007, police arrested 17 people on terrorism charges after a series of raids in Auckland, Wellington, Ruatoki, and various other locations. The terrorism charges were quickly dropped, as, last year, were all charges against 13 of the defendants. Today, the remaining four defendants - Tame Iti, Emily Bailey, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara and Urs Signer - are going on trial for participation in a criminal group and firearms charges.

The most obvious point is that after more than four years of government-induced delay (caused by the prosecution's insistence on using dubious evidence and trying all defendants together and without a jury), the defendant's right to a speedy trial has almost certainly been breached. That right exists for good reason: memories fade, witnesses move on, evidence goes stale. In New Zealand, cases have been tossed after delays of "only" two years. Here, we're looking at twice that. Can you remember the precise details of things you did or conversations you had four years ago? And yet, we're expected to believe that the police can - and that the defendants can in order to challenge any inaccuracies. And that's not really credible.

Secondly, that delay provides an obvious avenue of appeal should a conviction be entered. So this could go on longer even than the three months they are expecting, and finally be settled by the Supreme Court.

Thirdly, the government needs convictions in order to not look like dicks who have wasted millions of dollars of taxpayer's money chasing fantasies. It will (fortunately, finally) be up to a jury whether to get them. If they don't, we should be demanding heads on spikes from the police, from the SIS, and from the politicians responsible.