Terror accused should thank the Crown, not condemn it

Last updated 11:25 09/11/2007

I'd hate to be in Police Commissioner Howard Broad's size 12 shoes this morning. Everyone's calling for his head - politicians, the media, activists, activists' lawyers...

Well, let's just hang on a minute, shall we? Solicitor-General David Collins found that the evidence the police had on the 12 of the 16 people arrested in the raids a couple of weeks back did not quite meet the standards required under the Suppression of Terrorism Act.

But Collins also said that the police had "little option'' but to proceed with the charges, and that some of the evidence had come very close to meeting the standard. He said the police had brought an end to what were some "very disturbing activities'' in the Ureweras, and praised the professionalism and integrity of the police.

"Some may try to interpret my decision as criticism of the police,'' Collins went on. "Nothing could be further from the truth.''

Well that's exactly what's happened. Maori Party MP Hone Harawira has called Broad "a bullshitter" and says he should go. The lawyers of those in custody have accused the police of "red-neck hysteria'' and want Broad to drive up to Ruatoki and apologise for arresting them.

Never mind the fact that the courts have so far found that the firearms charges against those held are sufficient to deny them bail, or the fact that the solicitor-general intimated there was plenty of material held by the police that the public would be very interested to know about but will sadly now never see the light of day.

Perhaps the police should have been a little more careful that morning last month when they trampled through a small Maori village, knocking down doors and breaking windows. It's now fairly clear they did terrorise some innocent people, and for that Broad has already apologised.

But it's not the police who should be in the gun for dereliction of duty this morning but Parliament, which passed a law back in 2002 which was plainly an ass. In a stinging rebuke against Parliament, Collins yesterday said the law was "unnecessarily complex, incoherent, and as a result almost impossible to apply''.

For all the bragging from both major parties about the steps taken to protect us against terrorism, it now appears that Osama bin Laden himself could have been conducting operations from a cave in Ruatoki and the case against him would have been thrown out of court.

This is a serious setback to New Zealand's reputation as a nation that is tough on terrorism and an embarrassment for both Labour and National, who enthusiastically voted in favour of the bill. Incredibly, Parliament continued to push ahead with the Suppression of Terrorism Amendment Act last night, despite the fact that the act which it amends has now been sent back to the Law Commission for a rewrite.

It could be argued that police should never have even attempted to take a prosecution under such a dog's breakfast of an act, but possibly they have also done us a favour. It's only when Parliament's laws come before the courts that they can be interpreted and tested - that's how our legal system works.

And it's here that I find the greatest irony in this whole sorry tale. Those who have yelled loudest over the past few weeks have been those alleging collusion between the police and the government, claiming their rights to free speech and democracy have been eroded, and that they have been unfairly treated by the system.

To borrow a phrase from the Solicitor-General, nothing could be further from the truth. The system worked. The police levelled their charges, the highest officer of the courts examined the evidence, and found it wanting. North Korea this ain't. The activists should be thanking the Crown, not condemning it.  

Today's bail hearings for some of the accused should be very interesting. The public's confidence in the police hinge on whether the other charges they have laid will stick. If they do, those crying foul against the police will have some explaining to do.

But if they don't stick, then it's Broad who will have to do the explaining. Shortly before he begins scanning the Situations Vacant.

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