Tuesday, October 08, 2013

The Lundy verdict and the police

Last night, the British Privy Council upheld Mark Lundy's appeal against his conviction for murdering his family. I'm not particularly interested in crime news, nor in the details of Lundy's case. What I am interested in is New Zealand's justice system. And what this appeal tells us is that our police seem incapable of prosecuting a case properly.

David Bain, Mark Lundy - in both cases a high-profile murder case has failed to withstand judicial scrutiny. Which raises the question of how many other cases have similar flaws, but (due to most people not having the means to challenge a case all the way to the Supreme Court) have not been subject to proper scrutiny. But not just murders. If the police can so frequently get it wrong in cases with this level of public scrutiny, imagine how awful they could be in less public cases where nobody is watching.

This is something that should worry us all. When the police are able to gain a conviction on dodgy evidence or without having proved a case to the required standard, it doesn't just mean expensive retrials and compensation; it also raises the horrifying prospect of innocent people in jail. And that's not something we should tolerate. There needs to be an immediate inquiry into how the police handle cases, aimed at preventing such "errors" from recurring. More importantly, we clearly need additional safeguards in our justice system to help catch those "errors". That means making appeals more available (the government is making them less available by restricting legal aid). But more importantly, it means adding a UK-style Criminal Cases Review Commission to act as a backstop and comprehensive review system. If we don't, we're just going to keep seeing these errors - and public faith in the justice system will suffer as a result.