High Price Of Injustice
Whangarei resident John Colman is a rarity in New Zealand – a man who will stop at nothing to fight an injustice. His four year and thirty court appearance (so far) fight to expunge a wrongful conviction has caused many in the community to call him obsessed and every judge he encounters to call him everything but right.
The retired Australian diplomat counters that after going 60 years without a criminal record he has a right to be obsessed with exposing his 2008 criminal conviction for using offensive language on his own property as an elementary breach of his rights. As far as judges, he claims to be optimistic that one day he will appear before a judge to whom the Bill of Rights matters.
It all began when some religious buskers refused to leave Colman’s property and police were called. But when he demanded the police remove “the c***ts” from his property, the police arrested Colman for disorderly conduct.
Mr Colman immediately set out to showcase the absurdity of the police prosecuting a man for disorderly conduct in front of trespassers on his own property. Rather than withdraw a charge the police soon realised they could not win, they added a charge of offensive language to the disorderly charge.
One problem was neither the police nor the judge notified Colman of the new charge.
According to Colman, after Whangarei District Court Judge Maude found him guilty, the judge laughed at his protestations of never being informed of the charge. The Judge instructed the Registrar days later to not accept Colman’s application to recall the conviction on that basis.
Undeterred, Colman filed an appeal against conviction in the High Court alleging his right to due process had been violated. This prompted a District Court Deputy Registrar to notify Colman that Judge Maude would take a favourable view of any request for a rehearing if the High Court appeal was withdrawn. So began what would be a series of complaints to the Judicial Conduct Commissioner, with Colman alleging unlawful interference by Judge Maude.
Colman did not know it then, but his problems had barely begun. His appeal appearance before Justice Christopher Allan left him uneasy as the judge did not appear to understand the gravity of someone being convicted of a charge they were never informed of, or of the police abusing process to prevent Colman from calling one of the police responders who had agreed to testify on his behalf. After five months without a decision, he complained to the JCC about Allan.
The diplomat was incensed when Allan J finally ordered a discharge without conviction, and not simply because it ended his appeal rights without clearing his record (a DWC is deemed to not be an adverse ruling subject to appeal). It was the liberties Allan J took regarding the evidence in supporting his finding that sent a chilling indication for the first time that the whole system might be corrupted, including Judge Allan’s profound conclusion that the constable responder willing to give evidence on his behalf would not have helped Colman.
By Colman’s account, 45 violations of due process by police and the courts had occurred and he was determined to make an example of his treatment to save others. He filed Bill of Rights Act claims against the Crown and appealed Allan J’s ruling all the way to the Supreme Court, relying upon the contradictory language of the ruling “quashing” his conviction before discharging him without conviction. By law, according to Colman, the judge was functus officio after quashing his conviction and therefore could not “discharge” him.
The NZ Supreme Court ultimately refused to consider the legal incongruence by declaring s144 of the Summary Proceedings Act anticipated appeals of legal questions only where they resulted in adverse rulings – after contrarily stating the appealed ruling determined the conviction had been made out.
Only in New Zealand would the highest court rule that a criminal conviction was court-determined to be made out but that this was not an adverse ruling.
The Bill of Rights claims on the other hand have proven harder to get to a hearing than threading a camel through a needle, with judge after judge whittling down the claims – often declaring the limitations are by consent that Colman insists was never given – and in the process awarding costs of $20,000 in favour of the Crown so far.
Reached at his Whangarei home, Colman concedes he is no longer under any illusion that the courts are interested in justice and accuracy and admits to being depressed when he thinks about how bad it is. He realises his fate would have been different had he accepted Judge Maude’s illicit invite to cover up the police and judicial misadventures. He says he is nonetheless determined to minimally create a record of what lengths he has gone to seek justice and believes he finally appeared before a judge last week who was engaged in asking the right questions and listened to his answers.
Of course, Colman has felt this way before. If there is a safe bet in this protracted legal battle which started over a four letter word and has already cost taxpayers an estimated $2 Million, it is that the country will go broke before the police or any judge admits a mistake.