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Urewera 4 and the Supreme Court

  • May 15th, 2012

Maori TV excelled in last evening's hour long exploration of the complaints about the arrests, charges and the trial.

It was odd that defendants awaiting sentencing were not persuaded by their lawyers out of appearing. What a dilemma they present for the judge, having publicly shown an absence of remorse in the case of the Tuhoe two, and defiance in the case of the Parihaka pair.

It is odd to go through four and a half years without ever explaining why they were practicing with Molotovs in balaclavas, and taking strenuous steps to exclude evidence, up to the Supreme Court suppression, and (by not giving evidence themselves) ensuring that the Court never heard from  the only people there who knew "the whole truth" (they avoided the risk of cross-examination by getting their lawyers to raise their risible excuses) but then start strutting before you are sentenced.

Perhaps they did not ask their lawyers. Perhaps they thought their supporters needed  visible staunchness to help ignore the judge's comments on sentencing next week. They might be in prison after sentencing so would miss their chance to speak on TV.

Whatever the case, it was a triumph for Maori TV. As I expected, Julian Wilcox asked the right questions, though it grated to hear him purport to speak for Maoridom in pursuing Greg O'Connor.

I considered I was there  to speak for New Zealanders. That included the many Maori whose common sense would have been affronted by the ludicrous excuses, and the hyperbole of Pita Sharples and Hone Harawira and other notables castigating the Police and the (then Labour) Government.

I'm sure most observers of the ugly hikoi of bludgers who turned up in Wellington to shout obscenities at the justice system we all depend on, felt sorry for Tuhoe and others who they purported to represent.

But refreshing myself  to appear on TV reminded me of how deplorable has been the performance of the New Zealand legal system in all this.

What a catalogue:

a) the relevant law was badly drafted (as I pointed out when it was being passed);

b) the Solicitor General appears to have noticed the flaws inexcusably late, after warrants had been issued in reliance on it;

c) if the Police alerted media early to make a splash out of the arrests it backfired when  charges failed;

c) the Court's secret sessions and secret orders fertilised conspiracy theories that the Crown was being underhand;

d) If a brave newspaper had not leaked the sinister nature of the plots, the news for four years would have been entirely dominated by inventions of the accused and their supporters;

e) during the four year of skirmishing the official justice culture of secrecy (lack of a mechanism to rebut false claims) made the system look hapless, and potentially sinister;

f) Lenin's "useful idiots" were left un-opposed to turn the affair into a race clash, to the extent that Maori TV found no Maori lawyer  to put the case for the Crown last evening;

g) the Supreme Court persuaded itself that trespassing not shown to have affected any of the relevant landowners, despite a duty to weigh such impropriety against  "the need for an effective and credible system of justice", outweighed the desperate public need to know whether the Police had over-reacted;

I was asked last night by the other panelists what I'd do about the failure of the system to inspire confidence in anyone. I'd not thought that through. They thought there should be a public enquiry. 

The Dickensian delays in getting this case to trial alone would justify a Parliamentary inquiry into the quality of our courts and procedure. Add to that the low quality of judgments as useful statements of the law, to operate as practical guidance to all who live under it, and the continuing failure of anyone with authority in Justice to decalre and end to secrecy in the courts, and one could be tempted to support calls for an inquiry, just to see where the chips might fall.

It will not happen.  I cannot see a way to guarantee that it would not merely further damage the legal system, with no assurance of improvement.  There is no lawyer in Parliament with the legal mana to ensure quality in such a proceeding. Such a process should engage inspiring counsel to formulate and ask the hard questions, the way the best Senate enquiries do. If we could identify a quorum of thinkers such as those who engineered our ACC reform it might be worth the risk.

I can't see any such critical mass. We will not get solutions as radical as those that  finally reformed the system Dickens railed against. Lets work instead on the slow work of defending what is good against the justified but ill-directed outrage of citizens.
We have to hope for minor reforms until there are enough new people to take a constructive chain saw to the scaly accretions that drag our courts into such a mire.


  • AngryTory
  • May 15th, 2012
  • 10:37 pm


This explains why the SAS & RUC didn't arrest IRA terrorists – especially when the terrorists where training or were on operations.
They just shot them.
No doubt the STG has learned the same lesson.

  • Steve Turner
  • May 16th, 2012
  • 12:12 am

This would've been an ideal situation to send to the Privy Council in the UK. Full stop.

[…] Franks has written on the excellent Native Affairs discussion of the Urewera 4 trial on Monday Night, and he raises a […]


"the Supreme Court persuaded itself that trespassing … outweighed the desperate public need to know whether the Police had over-reacted"
The evidence ruled out by the Court in respect of the defendants who only faced Arms Act charges was admitted in respect of the four remaining defendants. We got to see what they had, despite the trespass. We know no less than we would have had the Supreme Court ruled it all in in respect of everyone.


"the relevant law was badly drafted (as I pointed out when it was being passed);"
I would also note that your concerns were that the law was too broadly drafted, not that it was too narrowly drafted. Which of the concerns that were raised during the passage of the bill have arisen during the Urewera matter?

  • Pete
  • May 17th, 2012
  • 10:53 am

"It is odd to go through four and a half years without ever explaining why they were practicing with Molotovs in balaclavas .. "
Signer pointed out on Native Affairs a few weeks ago that there was no evidence of the 4 on trial throwing Molotov Cocktails at the old stove.


How come Vince Siemer has been sentenced to SIX weeks jail, for publishing the (UNLAWFULLY) suppressed judgment of Judge Winkelmann, that the Urewera defendants were (originally) denied trial by jury and the public were not allowed to know about this?
Which NZ law allows a Judge to suppress a judgment or the reasons for it?
How is it that the LAW doesn't appear to apply to some NZ Judges?
Time for an enforceable 'Code of Conduct' for the NZ judidicary?
(For downloadable copies of a petition supporting an enforceable 'Code of Conduct' for the NZ judidicary – check out
'Action Plan against 'white collar' crime, corruption and 'corporate welfare').
How come, in NZ 'perceived' to be the 'least corrupt country in the world' (according to Transparency International's 2011 'Corruption Perception Index') – there is no enforceable 'Code of Conduct' for  NZ Judges; there is no 'Register of Pecuniary Interests' for NZ Judges, and court proceedings are regularly NOT recorded?
How can a 'court of record' not keep a record?
How can 'justice be done or be seen to be done' – when there is no record in court of WHAT was done?
What is your opinion on these matters Stephen?
Do you agree with the pending imprisonment of Vince Siemer?
Do you agree with the need for:
1) An enforceable 'Code of Conduct' for  NZ Judges;
2) A 'Register of Pecuniary Interests' for NZ Judges;
3) Court proceedings to be recorded,. and copies made available for parties to proceedings.
Penny Bright
'Anti-corruption campaigner'


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[…] Franks has written on the excellent Native Affairs discussion of the Urewera 4 trial on Monday Night, and he raises a […]

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