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Q+A Panel Discussion - Judith Collins Interview - 13 Oct

PANEL DISCUSSIONS

HOSTED BY SUSAN WOOD

In response to Judith Collins interview

SUSAN WOOD
Welcome along to the panel this morning. Political Scientist Dr Raymond Miller from Auckland University; Annette Sykes, nice to see you again after all these very many years, who is Mana Party President and, of course, a lawyer; and NZ Herald Columnist, a regular on the programme, Fran O’Sullivan. Good morning to you all. Fran, you made a comment then. You’re confused now having listened to Judith Collins. How has she confused you?

FRAN O’SULLIVAN - NZ Herald Columnist
Well, I think it was really when the Royal prerogative kicks in, but, frankly, I don’t think the minister made the case against the commission that very well. You know, I’ve been involved, many journalists have been involved over the years working alongside lawyers, pro-bono cases, helping people to get justice or do commercial cases, in my own case, and it takes a long time, and I just think the ability, unless you’ve got someone who has passion or can champion a case like Karam with David Bain and obviously the people now with Lundy, it’s very hard to get up that escalator. You do need somebody, and, frankly, I do worry a bit about those people who miss out. I think a state-funded independent organisation that is outside of politics is a very good idea.

SUSAN Annette, you’re in favour of some sort of a review commission, independent? It’s more like an intervention, really, isn’t it?

ANNETTE SYKES - Mana Party President and Lawyer
It’s an intervention for those that are less able to provide that intervention themselves. You know, if you forgot the statistics, 51 per cent of the current prison population is Maori. In the last 20 years, we’ve gone from prison muster numbers of 4000 to 8000. We’ve got an overwhelming proportion of Maori being apprehended earlier than non-Maori and then seven times more likely getting terms of imprisonment, and it’s those groups of people that are the least likely to have the champions like Karam argue their cases. The other barrier that I believe to justice is the fact of the Legal Services Review. There is no legal services guarantee of assistance for those groups like Maori and the poor in prison, and that’s why an early intervention which is proactive, like the Scottish commission, which actually goes into prisons, advises people of their rights, facilitates a determination, is good. The last thing, I think, is for the victims. They don’t want things overturned 20 years after a conviction. They would like matters disposed of within three years, and any justice system should be based on, firstly, recognition and responsibility for crime, but forgiveness. Nothing like that can happen until 20 years under the current process. Therefore, it is a recipe for unrest and dissention between groups in society.

SUSAN Politically interesting, because Labour looked at this idea back in 2006. As Judith said, Richard Worth talked about it in 2007, but neither side seemed to want to touch this review commission.

DR RAYMOND MILLER - Political Scientist
Yeah, I think one of the reasons why it’s difficult for the minister to pick up the ball on this is that it’s come from the Lundy legal counsel. You know, they’re the ones who have put forward this idea, and it’s very difficult for a government to say, ‘Yeah, that’s a good point. I’ll do something about it.’ They don’t like to be pushed into a decision. Had it come out of the Law Commission, it might have been a different situation. I think the really crucial thing about the Royal prerogative, of course, is that it’s very much in the hands of executive. It’s a political decision, and when it comes to things like compensation, for instance, you know, it really becomes a highly political situation. The thing about the complaint commission is, of course, that’s fully independent. There is no one looking over their shoulder. They are paid in Scotland out of Parliamentary funds, rather than from the government. And I think that independence is really invaluable.

SUSAN It is interesting watching you both nodding away to this. There really is very much general agreement. Do you think there is general agreement, Fran, throughout society to this?

FRAN Well, I think we’ve had several very high-profile cases now. And I take some of the points Annette makes, but not everybody, and the point the minister makes is a lot of people accept their fate because they are guilty in jail.

SUSAN Oh, look, I don’t think anybody’s suggesting that the jail’s full of innocent people.

FRAN But I think one of the things that I like about the commission is it has the power, in the UK sense, to compel the police to front up and to put across documentation. It’s very hard tackling these cases from the outside. That’s why they take so long, because it takes such a long time for independent briefs or journos, whatever, to actually amass the evidence to take on the case. It’s not simple, and I like the idea that the complaints commission can actually compel.

RAYMOND It’s really interesting that it’s not just a question of justice being done; it’s justice being seen to be done.

FRAN Correct.

RAYMOND So that people who are voiceless and sitting in prisons and so on don’t have a Joe Karam in order to be able to advance their case. At least they can make their own application. Even without legal counsel, they can make application to have their case considered.

SUSAN Annette, I mean, Maori, Pasifika, we know are over-represented in prisons and yet under-represented at any sort of form of appeal. Do you think that that would change that, would give them more of a voice?

ANNETTE No, I think the adage amongst those groups is that you’re guilty until proven innocent, and unless there is a champion to assist in that fight, there is an ignorance of the process, there’s a disconnection, and poverty denies them the resources to independently investigate. So this overcomes that. I take my hat off to the UK. They’ve actually provided a process that’s independent, and, frankly, it stinks when you think of independent police complaints authorities who have actually been in the main, many of them, police officers themselves investigating themselves. We need that measure of independence to give ourselves confidence in the accountability of our justice system.

FRAN I think one of the things that disturbed me about the Privy Council case was the suppression of some of that evidence which should have been on the table. They were masters of understatement when they said that was striking, and, that, frankly, is where I think Judith Collins should be asking very serious questions of the police.

SUSAN Very good. Very good, panel. Thank you for that. We’ll leave it there.

ENDS

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