OPINION: The flawed police undercover operation targeting Nelson's Red Devils motorcycle club has become a high-level legal arm wrestle.
Important principles are at stake, balancing public confidence in the court system and the public interest in bringing serious charges to trial.
The latest chapter is the Court of Appeal's decision this week setting aside Justice Simon France's decision to halt organised crime and drug charges against 21 people arrested in Operation Explorer.
Justice France had condemned the police actions - bringing a false charge against an undercover officer using an assumed name - as a serious abuse of court processes. The undercover officer appeared in court several times on the fake charges.
A fake search warrant with a false signature was also used by police as part of the strategy to boost the undercover officer's street credibility.
The police had gone to the Chief District Court judge over the false charge, but the information given was inadequate, Justice France found.
The Court of Appeal does not argue with those points; in fact it describes the police misconduct as "grave".
But it says that has to be balanced against the public interest in seeing serious criminal charges determined on their merits.
The appeal judges said there was a weak link between the police misconduct and the evidence underlying the charges, and that Justice France was mistaken in focusing on the past abuse of process rather than whether the trial would constitute one.
It says this led him to take an "unduly reactive and disciplinary approach".
"While the granting of a stay would have the substantial benefit of providing a clear condemnation by the Court of the police conduct and a clear signal that the Court does not accept that the ends justify the means, we do not see those factors as sufficiently strong to outweigh the public interest in bringing the respondents to trial," the judges ruled.
"We do not believe that by allowing the trial to proceed, the Court could fairly be seen to be condoning the police conduct."
However, one of the defence lawyers involved argues the decision can potentially be seen as just that, as a mandate for police to bend the rules, and it warrants being heard in the Supreme Court.
Police bosses say the misconduct in Operation Explorer will not be repeated and new processes have been introduced to avoid police and the courts being put in the same position.
That's a welcome move, as is the involvement of Crown lawyers in the new procedures. A failure to seek legal advice for the Operation Explorer actions was another "significant deficit", the courts found.
What would now seem logical is for the case - which the appeal judges noted was finely balanced - to be heard in New Zealand's highest court. The Supreme Court was set up to resolve just such issues with wide public interest dimensions.
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