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NZ criminal ‘justice’ no credit to its parent

  • May 23rd, 2012

This Fairfax report on th sentencing of Emily Longley's murderer, in the print version began by commenting on how the trial had exposed an ugliness in UK society.

That may be, but it has again  exposed the ugly gap between the quality of UK criminal justice and the system run for criminals, judges and lawyers here. Again.

Emily was murdered on 7 May last year. Her murderer, despite being aided by lying parents and some uncertainty about how she died, was sentenced straight away at the end of a fiercely defended trial, one year and two weeks later.

We can be almost certain that Elliott Turner will not risk an appeal against sentence because English judges are encouraged to increase the effective time in jail for criminals who abuse their appeal rights..

Compare all that with the disgrace of almost any of our major crimes. Weatherston, caught redhanded was not finally in prison with a certain sentence for Sophie's murder (in January 2008) until 5 years later, when the Supreme Court rejected his appeal bid in September last year. 


  • F E Smith
  • May 23rd, 2012
  • 9:20 pm

I have said before that the greatest cause of delays in the criminal system is slow investigation and disclosure by the Police.  Much investigation continues post charge and disclosure is usually still taking place during trial. 
Conversely, the British Police, who are actually quite lazy, have legislatively mandated timeframes to comply with and, even more importantly, judges enforce them. As in cases get dismissed if the Police/Crown screw around. That sort of judicial action is almost unheard of in NZ. If there were real consequences to Police delays, I assure you that time frames would shorten.


But they seem to be responding to the conditions created for the prosecution by Courts. An unwillingness to subordinate all other considerations to the prompt economical elucidation of facts likely to distinguish guilt from innocence and to punish for guilt, discouraging with material costs all behaviours that interfere with those objectives. I’m watching now a proceeding where nothing substantive has occurred in 18 months, largely because the court is driven by the convenience of senior counsel.

  • F E Smith
  • May 24th, 2012
  • 12:59 pm

Just on your last point first: Is that a criminal case or a civil case? I would suggest it is unusual. But the English courts have a good solution to that, too; the Court sets a date and the parties find counsel who is available. Problem solved. Happens all the time in summary criminal matters all over NZ.
With regards the first part of your comment: I agree. But the judges are often unwilling to take real action on the delays caused by the Police. Oh, they will bitch and moan, and the Prosecutor will be yelled at, but that is all. Actually applying sanctions (like intermediate costs awards, or even dismissal of the charges) are not steps the judges are willing to take. In England the award of costs against the Police is very common. Ok, it is out of the common fund, but the point is made. With no sanctions, the police do what they want, when they want to. And the judiciary lets them. 
Can I just say that I do think that NZ police are several times more competent than their English counterparts, and a lot less lazy. But when it comes to investigation and disclosure, they set their own timetable, regardless of what the law says. 

  • Jim Maclean
  • May 25th, 2012
  • 11:32 pm

I cannot for the life of me see how it can be fair to the victims of crime that charges can be dismissed allowing offenders to excape Scot Free because of Police misconduct.
Surely it is not impossible to find a way to punish Police misconduct while allowing discovered facts to speak for themselves thus not revictimising the victim of life changing crime in what can appear to lay persons like myself merely to be a game for the ammusement of opposing counsel.
Facts must be allowed to speak for themselves. In my mind there can never be true justice as long as victims rights are not seen as central to the process.

  • F E Smith
  • May 28th, 2012
  • 4:17 pm

so you would be happy for the police to torture a confession out of a defendant and then be allowed to use that confession as evidence? Or are you suggesting that only 'low level' misconduct is excusable?
I disagree with you about that, and about the primacy of 'victims rights' in the process. The prime consideration is on of fairness to both sides, not concentrating on the rights of a person who may not even be a victim, but may be a false complainant. In addition, some cases don't even have a real victim, but instead are regulatory in nature. 
Subverting court processes to protect victims will only increase the risk of injustices occurring more than they do now. 
But, to answer your first point: of course the prosecution can be punished for delays and other abuses; costs can be awarded against the police in favour of the defendant. That way legal costs are compensated. But in some cases where the police delay too long and breach the right of the defendant to have their case heard within a reasonable period of time, then dismissal is the only option. If the complainant is unhappy with that (and they should be) then perhaps they could sue the police? That would be much more effective than the wet bus ticket that is the Police Complaints Authority.

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