Editorial: A Rewa retrial would be an opportunity for justice.

Susan Burdett in July 1998.

Susan Burdett in July 1998.

EDITORIAL: It now seems likely that Malcolm Rewa will be tried once again for the murder of Susan Burdett. That would be a splendid outcome for the cause of justice, for the memory of Susan Burdett, for the peace of the Burdett family, and for Teina Pora.

The solicitor-general has applied for leave to bring the case, which would mean an extraordinary third trial for Rewa, now serving time for serial rape including that of Susan Burdett. After a jury failed to agree for the second time over the murder charge, the authorities said that only substantial new evidence could justify a third.

That evidence is now available, mainly from the continued voluntary investigations of the team supporting Teina Pora, who notoriously served 22 years for her killing though he didn't do it. The police investigation of Pora goes down in history as one of force's worst botches and as a hideous injustice which still awaits resolution.

A former defence lawyer for Rewa, Barry Hart, says the case is now so well-known that a fair trial for Rewa is impossible. Certainly a retrial, if it takes place, would be far better before a judge alone than a jury. Judges are professionals whose duty and training requires them to put aside all former knowledge or beliefs about the case.

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It is especially important that the third trial is seen to be above criticism. The normal rules of justice suggest that a third trial of anyone is undesirable. People should not be repeatedly put through the mill of the courts.

But exceptional circumstances require exceptional measures. That is the reason why a third trial is not only defensible, it is necessary.

The Burdett family could then gain some relief more than 25 years after they lost their daughter and sister. This would be a bitter kind of closure, but the only thing worse would be a continuation of decades of official incompetence and injustice.

The case shows once again the absolute necessity of a special investigative body for cold and difficult cases. A Criminal Cases Review Commission, along the lines of the offices in Britain and Scotland, would have the power to launch their own investigations into such cases.

History suggests that the bodies can do this job, at a reasonable cost to the taxpayer, and bring justice where there was previously confusion or outright injustice. The system would not have to rely on the voluntary and heroic labours of people such as Teina Pora's team.

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The question of fair trials and rigorous investigations would no longer be settled by chance and fortune. Those wrongly imprisoned - and it is certain that some of those now in prison have been wrongfully convicted - would have a professionally qualified body to investigate their case.

Teina Pora, meanwhile, is still waiting for justice even though the Cabinet approved compensation for him. Justice Minister Amy Adams made the decision to deny him inflation-proofing of his (already inadequate) $2.1 compensation.

Pora, just like the Burdett family, must wonder if the pattern of official injustice wil ever have an end.

 - Stuff.co.nz


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