A Necessary Obsession with Justice

Peter Cresswell's picture
Submitted by Peter Cresswell on Sat, 2007-05-12 05:13

I wasn't in New Zealand when the Bain family was killed or when David Bain was convicted, and I know too little of the details of the case to form an opinion myself on that verdict ... but with last night's decision from the Privy Council, it's a strong reminder that if you do want to get justice in New Zealand that you need to be as single-minded as a Joe Karam -- a single-mindedness that goes almost beyond reason and into an obsession -- an obsession that last night was triumphantly vindicated!

But is it a justice system worthy of the name when it takes such an obsession -- an obsession reportedly costing former All Black Joe Karam (right) in the order of $4-5 million to receive it on Bain's behalf -- the same sort of single-minded devotion that drove someone like Karam to be the outstanding All Black full back that he was? As Karam said this morning, his dozen years of single-minded devotion to justice is not something he'd recommend to others, but without others like Karam with obsessions like these, where and how and when do people like David Bain get a fair hearing?

And what does this decision from the Privy Councillors say about the Clark Government's decision to abandon our link with the Privy Council and introduce instead a local Supreme Court, a Court on which now sits two members of the Court of Appeal whose decision the Privy Council so derisorily dismissed. Speaking then I said,

the Privy Council isn't just a medieval relic leftover from the dusty days when common law still protected people's rights (though it is that) it also gives New Zealanders who are eager for justice access to some of the world's best legal minds. Further, having the Privy Council as our supreme court means there is a clear separation of powers between New Zealand's legislators and its supreme court - in this case 12,500km of ocean worth of separation!

... But surely, I hear you cry, [government]-appointed judges wouldn't just be tame poodles, rolling over whenever called to? Well, they don't have to. Despite being overrun with lawyers in shiny suits, the talent pool from which judges are chosen in New Zealand is remarkably small - everybody knows everybody else, and legislators and judiciary are often separated by no more than a restaurant table and a bottle of chardonnay.

It's not too late too reopen that debate.

UPDATE: Stephen Franks launches a salvo in that debate. "The Privy Council decision," he says, "is a catastrophic affirmation of the size of our loss when we abandoned our right to neutral international referees."

Joe Karam called this morning for the resignation of the two Supreme Court judges who refused an appeal while on the Court of Appeal. That kind of erosion of confidence in the quality of justice in New Zealand was inevitable from the moment the “indigenisers”, led by Hon Margaret Wilson, got their hands on the tiller...

The right of appeal to neutral outsiders was a priceless assurance of integrity for our otherwise unhealthily small hot house legal cabal...

Our legal profession thinks its privileges are justified by their championing of the the rule of law, of the rights of the citizen against the state. Some individual lawyers do that... [b]ut to me as an MP their advocacy as a ‘profession’ was marked by cowardly group think, often self interested, and suffusing political correctness.

This last Privy Council case is a sad measure of our exposure to that group think.

Read Franks' full piece here.

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