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Waihopai Ploughshares Trio Acquitted On Charges

Waihopai Ploughshares Trio Acquitted On All Charges

POSTSCRIPT: Before the report below from Bryan Law was published - shortly after 6pm tonight - the Jury of 11 returned with not-guilty verdicts for all defendants on all charges. The three defendants had been charged with intentional damage and entering a property with the intention to commit a crime.

There was a general feeling of euphoria in the packed courtroom when the verdict was announced and Scoop understands a party will be held tonight in Otaki to celebrate the verdict. Bryan Law's report which focusses on the Crown's closin submissions follows.

- The Scoop Editor

Waihopai Ploughshares Trial - Final Day

By Bryan Law of

At 3.45pm on Wednesday 17 March 2010 - St Patrick's Day - the jury in the Waihopai Ploughshares trial retired to consider its verdict..

Today we have heard closing addresses from the Prosecutor, Mr Marshall, Defence Counsel Mr Knowles and Mr Shaw, and self represented defendent Fr Murnane. Then Judge Harrop summed up and directed the jury. It was an impressive array of legal talent, and even couched in dry legal terms the content was moving.

Mr Marshall began by saying that, for the jury, this was a one issue trial, and that issue was whether or not the defendants had a genuine "claim of right". (A claim of right is where an accused carried out the act they are charged over in the genuine belief that it was lawful for them to do so. It does not have to be a correct belief, but it does have to be a genuine belief).

The facts, he said, were not in dispute. The accused had given detailed testimony about their planning, intentions, reasons and actions, and all the elements of the offence had been established - with the exception of claim of right.

The accused, he said, claim to have believed in April 2008 that they had available to them defences of "necessity" and "defence of others". In fact those defences were NOT available to them - as the judge has ruled in this case. So if any claim of right exists, it is based on a mistake.

To "negative" the claim of right defence, the Crown must prove beyond a reasonable doubt that their thinking "was not an actual belief, but at best a hope or expectation".

Here the prosecutor's task became nebulous, and difficult to fully understand.

What is the practical difference between a belief that a properly instructed jury will acquit on the same issues that other juries have acquitted on, and a hope they will do so? Anyone experienced in the law knows that anything can happen - even that a jury is capable of making a, "perverse verdict", against the facts. So that in some ways the best one can take into trial is a well grounded hope.

Nevertheless Mr Marshall did his best to say that hope was not enough, didn't achieve the requisite threshold, and that the jury should convict.

Mr Marshall conceded that Adi Leason, Peter Murnane, and Sam Land were "good people holding strong and sincere views about the world they live in, but even good men commit crimes".

He told the jury not to be distracted by political views that are irrelevant to the trial. We aren't here to pass judgement on the US, the GCSB, the war in Iraq, or the lack of government accountability. We're here to judge the accused under New Zealand law.

He said the lack of genuine belief in the lawfulness of their actions can be inferred from the way the act itself was premeditated, carried out under cover of darkness, and was known by the defendants that it would bring their arrest. Mr Marshall said the accused knew their actions would be controversial. He says that at the time they would not have believed in an acquittal, but would have known only that they would have an opportunity - a day in court.

In a peculiar piece of legal ju-jitsu he turned the accused's good character against them. "They are all experienced social justice activists. That is a school of hard knocks, where you hope for the best, but you know there will be set-backs". (Therefore they couldn't really believe in a just outcome from the courts).

And then Mr Marshall went on to misrepresent the Ploughshares movement and the testimony of Ciaron O'Reilly.

Mr Marshall seems unable to understand that the nub of a ploughshares action is the act of disarmament itself. Enfleshing the prophesy of Isaiah through direct action in the world has many consequences - a trail being only one of them, and not the most important one at that. So when Mr Marshall claims that "success" is measured by acquittal of criminal charges he is missing the point.

When he claims that the occasional or even frequent conviction of activists for Ploughshares actions negatives their belief in law, he is wide of the mark.

Nevertheless his job is to negative the defendants' claim of right, and he gave it his best shot. Time will tell if he has succeeded. He closed by saying "If you apply your common sense and logic to these defendents, there can be no alternative but conviction".

Which is not a view shared by Mr Knowles, Mr Shaw, or Fr Murnane.

I don't mean to leave you hanging, but I'm off to dinner now. Word is that the jury will work up until 10pm NZ time to reach a verdict, and after that will re-commence tomorrow. I'm off to dinner, after which I'll write my report on the Defence closings and the Judge's comments.

Update: As mentioned in the postscript above - before this item could be published the Jury returned with not-guilty verdicts for all defendants on all charges.

(More from Bryan Law will follow later tonight…)


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