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Goff Reading: Pitcairn Trials Bill third reading

Pitcairn Trials Bill third reading


I move, that the Pitcairn Trials Bill be now read a third time.

The Bill gives effect to an Agreement which came about after the United Kingdom asked whether New Zealand would be prepared to let Pitcairn courts sit here.

An important consideration in the New Zealand Government’s response to this request was the interests of justice for any New Zealand-based complainants and accused. A significant proportion of both groups I understand are likely to be resident in this country.

I am surprised at the opposition of New Zealand First and The Greens who purport to regard concerns of victims as paramount. The charges likely to be laid in this matter are apparently not about cultural practices regarding the age of consent. Proposed charges according to the Pitcairn’s Prosecutor would be at the serious end of offending, including the alleged multiple rape of an eight year old.

The Bill puts in place the legal framework that is needed for Pitcairn Courts to conduct their trials on New Zealand soil.

It deals, in particular, with the relationship between Pitcairn and New Zealand law. If the Pitcairn courts sit here it does not mean that their proceedings are justiciable in the New Zealand courts. Anyone who wants to challenge Pitcairn proceedings must do so under Pitcairn law in the usual way.

Certain immunities and privileges are given to the Pitcairn courts and those associated with them, such as judges, so that the courts can function independently.

The Bill also deals with various practical matters.

Ÿ It adapts extradition procedures so that a Pitcairn accused who is in New Zealand can be transferred directly to the court premises;

Ÿ It allows Pitcairn accused to be held in New Zealand prisons. They can also be released on bail if certain conditions are met;

Ÿ It allows limited purpose permits to be issued under the Immigration Act for people who need to come to New Zealand for the trials.

Pitcairn sentence or hospital orders can be enforced in New Zealand if the Minister of Justice agrees. They are then treated in essentially the same way as a corresponding New Zealand sentence or order.

All costs, including those of imprisonment in a New Zealand prison, are to be borne by the United Kingdom.

The Pitcairn arrangement is limited in nature and probably unique. Once the specified trials are over, the UK may ask for other Pitcairn trials to be held here. But this is on a case-by-case basis only and there is no obligation to agree.

A particular concern raised in submissions was that holding trials in New Zealand might precipitate Pitcairn’s demise.

There are certainly difficulties in reconciling the longer term need to deal with the issue of Pitcairn’s future and the shorter term need to bring alleged serious offenders to justice without any further delay.

The first issue is a matter for the UK and Pitcairn to resolve under the auspices of the UN decolonisation process. In that regard the UK Government assured the select committee of its commitment to Pitcairn’s future.

The second issue is something with which New Zealand can assist by allowing trials to take place here. This is consistent with our general commitment to the rule of law and the principle that alleged serious offenders should be brought to justice.

Many submitters took the view that if there are to be trials, rather than a truth and reconciliation process, those trials should be held on Pitcairn.

While trials are generally held in the place where the offending occurs, this is not an invariable rule.

The UK authorities have had to plan for a range of possible scenarios. As part of that process facilities on the Island have recently been upgraded. Even so, the UK told the select committee that holding every aspect of a series of defended trials on the Island would still present significant practical difficulties.

This bill is therefore facilitative: it will ensure that there is no impediment in New Zealand law to New Zealand being a venue option. But it is also important to note what the Bill does not do:

Ÿ it does not require all Pitcairn trials to be held in New Zealand;

Ÿ it does not require all Pitcairn-based accused to be transferred to New Zealand;

Ÿ it does not give authority for Pitcairn trials to be held by video-link.

These are all matters for the Pitcairn courts and for Pitcairn law. For example, if a change of venue is sought in a particular case, the accused will be able to be heard on the issue so the Pitcairn court can decide where the interests of justice lie. Its decision will be appealable.

It may be that, within a particular trial, some parts of the proceedings could be held on Pitcairn and some in New Zealand. There is no particular difficulty for example in holding pre-trial challenges or appeals here. These involve primarily legal argument and do not generally require the presence of the accused.

What will happen in the trials themselves depends on the evidence presented and on Pitcairn law. The Pitcairn and UK justice systems embody the same sort of human rights standards as our own. We expect that the Pitcairn courts will guard those rights closely, as our own courts do.

Providing the option of an alternate venue helps to clear the way for Pitcairn justice to take its course at an early date. This is in the interests of complainants and alleged offenders and will, in turn, allow Pitcairn itself to move forward.

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