Justice Minister? The rest of the world will look askance at a New Zealand Cabinet Minister’s public denigration of the internationally renowned Canadian jurist, Justice Ian Binnie. Collin’s conduct condemns us as a nation of ignorant and politically reckless barbarians.
ARTHUR ALLAN THOMAS, Peter Ellis, David Bain – and these are just the cases that have seared themselves into our consciousness. How many similar miscarriages of justice have blighted the lives of innocent men and women: passing unnoticed for want of a Pat Booth, a Lynley Hood or a Joe Karam to stir the nation's conscience? What is it about the New Zealand Establishment that renders it virtually incapable of self-correction? What makes our rulers so unwilling to admit their mistakes?
Today it’s Judith Collins whose been caught in flagrante delicto with error. But the present Justice Minister is simply the most recent in a long line of politicians who have decided that they and the system they represent are in all respects beyond reprimand, admonition or rebuke. That in New Zealand the powers-that-be are incorrectable.
Is it because we’re so small? Are the hidden networks connecting those who wield political, judicial and economic power over our daily lives so hopelessly entangled; so pervasively compromised by unacknowledged conflicts of interest; that even the slightest scrutiny would instantly provoke a general collapse in public trust and confidence? Is that the reason we constantly emerge from international comparisons as the least corrupt country on the planet? Not because we are incorruptible, but because by the general (if unspoken) agreement of the elites, incidents which in other jurisdictions would inevitably attract accusations of corruption and malfeasance are in New Zealand consistently characterised as something else?
There’s no doubt that the New Zealand Establishment has become extraordinarily proficient at protecting itself. Just consider the three cases already referred to: the Thomas Case, the Ellis Case and the Bain Case. What was the common factor which ensured that Thomas and Bain were vindicated? What is Peter Ellis still waiting for? The answer, of course, is a foreign pair of eyes. Thomas was rescued by Rob Muldoon’s populist instincts. Recognising an obvious Establishment stitch-up, he initiated a Royal Commission of Inquiry headed by an Australian judge. Bain was saved by the five pairs of British eyes assigned to his case by the Privy Council in London. Peter Ellis’s great misfortune is that those responsible for reviewing his case have all been senior members of the New Zealand judiciary.
It should never be forgotten that in all of these cases the New Zealand Court of Appeal upheld the wrongful conviction of innocent men. Evidentiary insecurity – in all cases due to “lapses” in the gathering and retention of crucial forensic material and/or testimony – was never considered by the Court as being of sufficient weight to vacate the earlier verdicts. Not even when, in the Ellis case, the evidence was patently absurd and obviously untrue.
And now we have the Report of Justice Ian Binnie – a Canadian jurist with a formidable international reputation – who, like so many other foreign judges, has studied the evidence used to convict a New Zealand citizen and unequivocally rejected it as unpersuasive of anything except that person’s innocence. In arriving at his conclusions he has had a few highly critical things to say about the way the New Zealand Police conducted their investigations. And, by implication, the New Zealand Court of Appeal is criticised for its failure to spot what was so clear to both himself and UK Privy Council.
Asked by the then Justice Minister, Simon Power, to help the Cabinet to decide whether or not to compensate David Bain for the 13 years he spent in jail, Justice Binnie could have had no inkling of the insults to which Power’s successor, Judith Collins would subject him.
Collin’s behaviour is explicable only in terms of the New Zealand Establishment’s blank refusal to be corrected. Upon receiving Justice Binnie’s report her first instinct was to pass it on to the Solicitor General and the Police. The Canadian judge had dared to suggest that they had erred – a conclusion which was plainly false since the New Zealand authorities are incapable of error. In spite of passing on the report to parties which were, in effect, Bain’s opponents, the Justice Minister did not think it proper to provide a copy to the legal representatives of the man most directly involved. Not content with this extraordinary breach of the basic principles of fairness, she then commissioned a former New Zealand High Court judge, Robert Fisher QC, to “peer review” the former Canadian Supreme Court Judge’s findings.
The Minister’s extraordinary behaviour was then compounded by her decision to unleash a campaign of public denigration against Justice Binnie. The eminent jurist was painted as an incompetent assessor of evidence and accused of having a poor understanding of “New Zealand Law”. In a chilling example of ruthless politicking, Collins withheld Justice Binnie’s report until Fisher QC’s critique of its findings could be released simultaneously. In this way Bain’s opponents would have a ready counter to Justice Binnie’s conclusions.
The rest of the world will look askance at a New Zealand Cabinet Minister’s public denigration of an internationally renowned jurist. Collins’ conduct condemns us as a nation of ignorant and politically reckless barbarians. Her seeming disregard for the ability of future New Zealand governments to access expert international legal advice renders her unfit to hold the office of Justice Minister, and her failure to honour the most basic requirements of natural justice should attract the strong censure of the New Zealand Law Society.
Will it happen? Probably not. Judith Collins’ behaviour is entirely consistent with the New Zealand Establishment’s “incorrectable” traditions. The Prime Minister has already cast the cloak of his protection over her shoulders, and that part of the population which prefers to believe that its political, judicial and economic masters are as blameless and honourable as they are disinterested and incorruptible will cheer her to the echo.
Better by far that ten innocent people remain incarcerated than the corrupt New Zealand Establishment which wrongfully convicted them ever be held accountable.
This posting is exclusive to the Bowalley Road blogsite.