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Supreme Court on Urewera raids: Police overstepped the law

Supreme Court on Urewera raids: 'deliberate disregard for the boundaries of legal power by the police'

16th September 2011

It can now be revealed that the remaining four defendants in the court case against political activists came unbelievably close to also having their charges dropped after a majority verdict in the Supreme Court earlier in the month.

"The Supreme Court judges ruled 3-2 that the evidence illegally gathered by the police is inadmissible against 13 defendants. They also ruled with a 3-2 majority that the evidence would be admissible against the four defendants who are also charged with being a member of an organized criminal group, a charge for which the crown has no evidence. The judge were unanimous that the police had obtained evidence illegally" said former defendant Valerie Morse.

Supreme Court Justice Tipping said in the judgment that 'there was a deliberate or, at the very least, a reckless disregard for the boundaries of legal power' by the police. 'In my view the police’s legitimate concerns about the activities in question and the initial apparent urgency fall short of outweighing the factors which point towards exclusion of the challenged evidence.'

Supreme Court Justice Blanchard said that 'the video surveillance was not authorised by any warrant. Even in the instances when the police had a valid warrant to enter the land concerned, they still had no right to carry out the surveillance and were trespassing when they installed the video cameras. Each breach was substantial in itself and they were repeated frequently over a lengthy period. Even taking the view most favourable to them, the police seem to have been prepared over and over to run the risk of acting in breach of the law.'

The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court, Justice Sian Elias, said that 'the evidence was improperly obtained not only by reason of the trespass but because it constituted unreasonable search and seizure.'

Valerie Morse concluded that "the only thing that has been legally established after four years is that the police broke the law and there was insufficient evidence - according to the Solicitor-General - to prosecute anyone under the Terrorism Suppression Act. The crown is trying to save face by launching a media campaign against the remaining defendants with allegations of serious and violent offences for which they have no evidence."

Supreme Court judgments

Elias

[8] that the evidence was improperly obtained not only by reason of the trespass but because it constituted unreasonable search and seizure, under Sec 21 of the NZ Bill of Rights

Tipping

[252] The impropriety in the present case was serious and substantial. It infringed important rights. Crucially, there was a deliberate or, at the very least, a reckless disregard for the boundaries of legal power. The offending, as charged, is on the lower side of moderately serious. There is in the circumstances of this case a need for effective vindication of the breach of rights involved which cannot be achieved short of exclusion of the evidence. In my view the police's legitimate concerns about the activities in question and the initial apparent urgency fall short of outweighing the factors which point towards exclusion of the challenged evidence.

Blanchard

[175] In this case the video surveillance was not authorised by any warrant. Even in the instances when the police had a valid warrant to enter the land concerned, they still had no right to carry out the surveillance and were trespassing when they installed the video cameras. Each breach was substantial in itself and they were repeated frequently over a lengthy period. Even taking the view most favourable to them, the police seem to have been prepared over and over to run the risk of acting in breach of the law. They did not obtain legal advice and should have done so. No doubt they felt obliged to pursue their investigations on the Tuhoe lands and, at the beginning, with some urgency (though not amounting to an emergency) because of their perception of what was occurring and what was being planned, and their inability to progress their investigation in any other way. That is, however, something to be taken into account when the exclusion of the evidence gathered is considered under s 30 of the Evidence Act.

ENDS

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