Sunday, September 18, 2011
This Embarrassment Still Belongs To The Police
The police decision to drop charges against 13 members of the "Urewera 18" has incited predictable outrage from police and law and order hawks.
The firearms charges against the 13 were dropped because the police case collapsed, after the Supreme Court ruled that police footage taken illegally on Tuhoe land was inadmissible.
The Crown case relied heavily on this footage.
Stephen Franks is depressed by the way our courts have dealt with the "terror charges", even though terrorism charges were never laid (Police were refused permission to lay terrorism charges by the Solicitor-General).
And John Pagani appears to be happy to compare the Urewera 18 case with the case of the Norwegian mass murder Anders Breivik. Despite his not having a clue what is on the video footage. Even if the evidence were admissible, that wouldn't in itself make it compelling.
Section 30 of the Evidence Act allows illegally obtained evidence to be used in some cases where the alleged offences are serious. This is why the evidence cannot be used in relation to the firearms charges, but can be used against the remaining four defendants, who are facing more serious charges.
It is no surprise that the moment the judgment was released the police sought to attack the decision, claiming that it will impact on their ability to do their job. But it is hard to see how that could be so. The Evidence Act requires judges to make a call as to what extent an exclusion of the evidence would be proportionate to its impropriety. It does not automatically rule out improperly obtained evidence.
It doesn't seem all that controversial to think that illegally obtained evidence should not be used if the charges the evidence is to be used for are not serious ones. If police could use illegally-obtained evidence in all situations, then that would simply encourage them to break the law.
Police Association spokesperson Greg O'Connor is welcoming the release of the ruling because "Those who were quick to leap to the conclusion that police had no evidence justifying arrests should now be embarrassed."
But I beg to differ. Illegally obtained evidence that is entirely inadmissible is no evidence at all. How do we even know what was on the video footage?
If police had actual evidence of serious wrongdoing against the 13, why weren't they charged with more serious offences?
It is the police who ought to be embarrassed.