Court throws out flag burning charge

01:17, May 06 2011
Valerie Morse
Valerie Morse has been successful in appealing her conviction that stemmed from burning a New Zealand flag at an Anzac Day service.

An activist who burned a New Zealand flag at an Anzac Day dawn service has had her conviction for offensive behaviour thrown out by the Supreme Court.

Valerie Morse was convicted in Wellington District Court for behaving in an offensive manner in a public place after setting fire to the flag in Wellington 2007. She was fined $500.

A District Court judge concluded "offensive behavior'' to mean behavior capable of wounding feelings or arousing real anger, resentment, disgust or outrage in the mind of a reasonable person of the kind actually subjected to it in the circumstances. He  considered that a tendency to disrupt public order was not required.

The judge concluded that while Morse's behavior was protected by s14 of the Bill of Rights Act 1990, it was offensive in the context of the Anzac Day dawn observance.

Earlier attempts by Morse to appeal the conviction to the High Court and Court of Appeal were dismissed.

But the Supreme Court has found that the lower courts "mistook'' the meaning of the Bill of Rights, saying that offensive behavior must be behavior which gives rise to a disturbance of public order.

Because the District Court had proceeded on a wrong basis of law, by failing to assess the impact on public order, the Supreme Court set aside Morse's conviction.


The Dominion Post