Judge, or be judged

Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann ordered yesterday that the “Urewera terrorist” prosecution (R v Bailey) against 15 accused will be by judge alone trial. The landmark ruling was sought on application by the Crown and had been opposed by some accused.

The remaining three of the eighteen listed defendants were ordered separate trials.

Winkelmann J ordered the public not be told about her order. In the past Winkelmann has stated the reason for such secrecy was to ensure the jury pool is not prejudiced by pre-trial information. Her latest order prohibiting a jury states**INFORMATION SUPPRESSED BY ORDER OF THE NEW ZEALAND HIGH COURT**, each provide a sufficient ground for denial of jury trial in her mind.

In responding to the defendants’ assertion the Bill of Rights Act 1990 ensures the right to elect trial by jury when facing more than 3 months prison, Her Honour stated the Supreme Court declared last year in Wenzel v R that barring a jury trial did not violate the Bill of Rights Act. The Supreme Court reasoning in Wenzel v R was that judges are as fair as juries, even though the Bill of Rights guarantee to jury trial is not founded on contrary reasoning.

The R v Bailey accused were originally arrested under the Terrorist Suppression Act and some were denied bail. After widespread public protests, Solicitor General David Collins did not approve terrorism prosecutions in October 2007. Most are now charged with arms violations: some with organised crime activity.

Justice Winkelmann was the Judge who earlier concurred with Police that their Court affidavit used to obtain the nationwide search warrants in the massive arrests be suppressed, then revoked bail on Crown application after Auckland District Court Judge Josephine Bouchier granted bail for some of the accused in 2007. In 2009, Justice Winkelmann struck out several of those search warrants as unlawful. Last month, the Court of Appeal reinstated them after the Crown appealed.

Winkelmann’s ruling yesterday means the eighteen originally charged wrongly by the Crown as terrorists will now have their guilt or innocence determined by a Crown judge, as the Crown is being forced to justify its actions in the raids to the Unitited Nations.

The arrests were the culmination of a 13 month and multi-million dollar covert police investigation in 2007 which made news headlines around the world.