Urewera costs $6m and climbing

QUESTION TIME: Tame Iti with supporters outside the Auckland High Court on Tuesday.
QUESTION TIME: Tame Iti with supporters outside the Auckland High Court on Tuesday.

Legal aid costs for the Urewera trial are nearing $3 million, with final invoices still to be filed.

When Crown costs are added, the taxpayer will have paid out well over $6m on an unresolved case the New Zealand Law Society describes as the costliest criminal trial in this country's history.

It could yet go to retrial, prompting another round of legal aid applications.

Not included are police costs for extended surveillance and raids across the country in October 2007.

Both sides claimed victory after the jury verdicts on Tuesday, when the Crown got some firearms charges to stick on Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Urs Signer and Emily Bailey, dubbed the "Urewera Four".

But the jury could not reach a verdict on a charge of participating in an organised criminal group.

Now the four must wait a month before they learn if the Crown will opt for a retrial, but no new charges will be laid.

Justice Ministry figures put the legal aid bill for the Urewera Four at $1,067,042. Legal aid for the 14 whose cases were dismissed comes to $1,759,600, with the total bill $2,826,643.

Legal aid costs so far processed for Iti total $348,876, Signer $283,585, Kemara $247,851 and Bailey $187,728.

Of the 14 others, Watene McClutchie headed the list with $244,819. Tuhoe Lambert, who died in July last year, ran up $132,692 in legal aid costs.

Crown lawyer Ross Burns said that in any normal case resulting in a hung jury, a retrial would take place as a matter of course. But the Urewera case involved several considerations.

These included the delay since the alleged offending, the cost of a retrial and the broader public interest given the damage to the relationship between Tuhoe and the Crown. Any decision would be made before April 18.

The Crown case was that the accused were conducting military-style training camps in the Urewera Ranges between November 2006 and October 2007.

But the defence countered that the accused were merely running a wananga to teach bushcraft and firearms skills in preparation for potential security work in the Middle East.

Following the verdicts the Greens and the Mana Party called for an inquiry.

But Prime Minister John Key yesterday rejected the demand.

Mr Key acknowledged the trial had been "fraught" with issues around the Terrorism Suppression Act.

Police had decided to prosecute because they believed there were serious issues involved for which people needed to be held to account, he said.

"If you take a step back and look at least at the footage which was on display and has been in the public domain, they were at least serious allegations.

"We ask a lot of the police and we expect them to uphold safety and security and all we can do is give them our support and give them the independence to make the decisions they believe are right."

- Tame Iti, Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara, Emily Bailey and Urs Signer were not originally charged under the Terrorism Suppression Act, as reported in a previous version of this story. Evidence was gathered under that legislation, but  Solicitor-General David Collins would not permit use of the act to charge them.

Fairfax Media