It took four-and-a-half years to finally dribble to a close, the final result of Operation 8 and the police’s first and only use of the error-ridden Terrorism Suppression Act being a thirty-month jail sentence for the two organisers of Tame Iti’s rag-tag band of insurgents.
It was a poor return really for an operation so bungled it has exposed police, lawmakers and now the courts as embarrassing incompetents prepared to stretch the law they swore to uphold, and it is the final act of farce in long litany of them in this case.
After all the smoke has cleared—after a police operation for which justification has never properly been shown—after the Terrorism Suppression Act on which the police investigation was based was revealed as so poorly written it could never be practically used to bring any case, let alone this one—after delays so long and incompetence so thorough that the number of defendants was reduced by degrees from 20 to 16 to 15 to 14 to just four (justice delayed being justice denied and made a mockery of)—when the case finally limped to its close Iti and his lieutenant Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were found guilty only of handling and using unlicensed firearms and molotov cocktails. That was it. That was what it was all about.
Pathetic. Crikey, I’ve handled and used unlicensed firearms and a molotov cocktail, and I’d wager a few of you reading this have done too. I’d be awfully surprised if that on its own could justify being locked up for thirty months, and I bet you would be too. But it was supposedly for that that the sentence was supposedly handed down.
Of course, that’s not the real reason for the sentence at all. Because the real reason for the longer sentence was stated explicitly by Justice Rodney Hansen. “In effect a private militia was being established,” he said.
So Iti and Kemara were not being sentenced primarily on the six firearm charges on which the jury found them guilty, but also on the terrorism charges on which the jury found the case unproven. That, right there is the reason Iti and Kemara were locked up in Mt Eden last night. Not because of their facial furniture or the colour of their skin, but because the judge believed what the jury didn’t.
In effect, this was a law court trying to make up for the failure of the lawmakers, because this had been a jury who found the case unproven not because the evidence wasn’t there, but because the poor drafting of the Terrorism Suppression Act couldn’t make legal the way the evidence was gathered. Thus, this was one branch of government trying to make up for the failure of another.
Which is not the way law is supposed to work.
Nonetheless, from start to finish the whole operation has shown that New Zealand law does not work. It doesn’t work for defendants, who face years before having their day in court; it doesn’t work for the man in the street, who could face armed police at any time based on who-knows-what evidence cooked up under a buggered piece of legislation; and it doesn’t even work for prosecutors, who are left with very little with which to attempt to prove their case.
And in the final wash-up we finish up never knowing what really went on in those hills, whether twenty or seventeen or four should really have been charged, whether the police were justified in using the force they did in their early-morning raids, nothing—nothing at all beyond the knowledge that “pacifist” peace protestors by day can actually be gun-toting militia joiners harbouring fantasies of armed revolution.
But justice has neither been done, nor has it been seen to be done. And John Minto et al have been handed a cause on a plate with which to further sharpen their axe of grievances.
The law is an ass. Which is where it and those responsible for it deserve to be kicked.
PS: Time to recycle this magazine cover…