The Urewera 18 have applied to the Supreme Court against the Court of Appeal’s rejection of their right to trial by jury.
Citing no right to appeal interlocutory judgments ahead of trial, the Crown prosecution opposes the Supreme Court considering the matter until at least after the scheduled trial in August, if at all.
In what is already the most expensive prosecution to taxpayers in New Zealand’s history, the result will be a mistrial if Crown argument is accepted and the Supreme Court determines post trial that denial of jury breached New Zealand Bill of Rights Act and Crimes Act guarantees. Strategically the Crown’s hope is that a fait accompli on judge alone trial will bolster the economic pressures on the Supreme Court upholding the lower court’s imposed discretion to deny this statutory right.
Meanwhile, it has been reported in the Whakatane Beacon that Tuhoe will back a request to solicitor-general David Collins later this month to drop all charges against the 18 defendants. After the September 2007 raids held many without bail on terrorism charges, public protests forced Mr Collins to reduce the charges to various weapons, drugs and gang charges. It is reported Tuhoe leader Tamati Kruger said iwi would endorse the request to drop charges, sponsored by lawyer Moana Jackson and Auckland University law faculty professor Jane Kelsey, adding “These people will never, ever get a fair and just trial.”
The original Police affidavit used to obtain the warrants to make the arrests which grabbed world headlines 3 Â½ years ago suggests several defendants were charged because of their personal association with their co-defendants or for using offensive language in describing Police. Despite a court-ordered public suppression order of this police affidavit from day one, Auckland High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann read out key phrases for the TV cameras in court when revoking bail against one of the defendants Jamie Locket a week after the arrests. Those sensationalist excerpts, that “white men are going to die in this country” and “I am going to go commando”, were not given any context and were not representative of the police affidavit. Talk radio was ablaze in the days afterward, with many advocating reestablishment of the death penalty.
Three years later it was Winkelmann who denied 14 of these 18 defendants their statutory right to trial by jury on grounds jury members will likely use “improper reasoning processes” in reaching a decision and the trial is expected to be lengthy. As with the affidavit, the Judge suppressed her ruling from the public. It is this decision which the Court of Appeal upheld last month and the Supreme Court is now being asked to consider.