Monday, 26 May 2008

Problem is Keystone cops, not the right to silence.

After the acquittal of Chris Kahui, former politician Geoffrey Palmer says there's a problem with the law.  No there's not, says prominent defence lawyer Barry Hart -- pointing to the acquittals of Chris Kahui and George Gwaze, the problem he says is with the police investigations.  While I'm always inclined to presume that both are wrong when a lawyer and a politician are arguing, in this case it's the lawyer who's right.

Palmer's suggestion that our legal system abandons the right to silence -- a basic legal protection against state authority that have been with us for centuries -- is the sort of thing one would expect to see from angry talkback callers  after a few drinks, not from a supposedly learned chap who once wrote a book called Unbridled Power. 

Suggestions from Palmer and Labour's Russell Fairbrother that the protection of the right to silence in New Zealand today was different from old English society, which developed the law to protect powerless suspects "against the overwhelming power of the state,"  are worse than spurious. As Auckland University associate professor of law Scott Optican says, they are "ridiculous."   The power of the state now is no less overwhelming now and, as Optican points out, "although police could not force people to speak before a trial, they could call them as witnesses in court, where they had to speak."

So what's the problem?

The problem is that we're all angry that people have been killed, investigations and court cases have been held, and the killers still haven't been found and convicted.  But anger at the failure to achieve convictions isn't a reason to throw away one's brain. 

Because lawyer Barry Hart is right.  The problem is not the right to silence in NZ law, the problem appears to be the incompetence of NZ police investigations. We all looked askance at the Keystone Cops approach to investigating the killings of Chris & Cru Kahui, and as we saw in the trials of Chris Kahui for their killing and  of George Gwaze for killing his niece, the police appeared to be blithely unaware of some basic information about both cases.

Where, for example, was Macsyna King when her babies were supposed to have been killed?  After months of investigation the police didn't know, and Kahui's defence team had to show them.   The police, you see, hadn't thought to look at her phone records.  Not good enough. 

Similar failures in police procedure appeared in the case against George Gwaze, in this case the most basic information about what caused his niece's death.

The Kahui/King 'family' was deadly to its youngest members -- let's not let them and the incompetent police investigation of their killing be just as deadly to NZ law.

UPDATE 1:  Joining the 'Sort Out the Police' brigade is ZenTiger, who uses biting satire and two other stories of police incompetence to make his point, and  Blair Mulholland, who points out the police are largely ignoring their most basic duty: to protect us. 

    Like all bureaucracies, their first instinct is self-perpetuation and preservation, no matter what the consequences for their sworn duties.  They have become a huge threat to our rights and our individual sovereignty - a wayward beast run amok.
    The police have:

    ..and that's just for starters.
    Policing in this country has reached crisis point.  We need nothing less than an independent Royal Commission to sort it out.

I doubt that a Royal Commission is the answer -- after all, the New South Wales police endure a Royal Commission every election cycle, and they're still 'the best police money can buy.'  In my humble opinion, Trevor Loudon's ten-point plan to fix the police is still the best place to start.


  1. The lead detectives in both cases should be dismissed or at least be demoted for being incompetence.

  2. Elijah Lineberry26 May 2008, 10:54:00

    Geoff Palmer has no credibility left after his bizarre suggestion.

    So let me understand this correctly, an Order In Council regarding some irrelevant topic is evil itself, but beating a confession out of a randomly selected suspect is not?!?!

  3. PC: If the police were a private organization, the fuck-ups would have prompted me to take my business elsewhere. But I can't. And your support of that typical fallback of governmental organizations - the N-point plan - indicates you don't want to afford me that choice. Why not?

  4. Actually, if the police were a private organisation that was big and bureaucratic the incompetents would be promoted. Happens where I work all the time.



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