Editorial: Appalling delays

Last updated 05:00 19/11/2012

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OPINION: It's becoming a close call whether the horrific Doha mall fire, which killed 19 people including 2-year-old Kiwi triplets, will eventually prove to be more or less of an international scandal than the subsequent humiliation of Qatar's judicial process.

The hearing has endured its fourth delay, bedevilled as it is by the chronic absence of defendants with more pressing matters on their itineraries. Apparently.

This would stand as an indictment on any country's legal processes, but in this case the impression is all the worse given that the defendants who seem unable to fit the hearings into their busy schedules are the daughter of Qatar's minister of culture, arts and heritage, and her husband, the ambassador to Belgium.

Actually, that description is too impersonal. They should be named at every reference. Iman Al Kuwari and Sheik Ali Bin Jassim Al Thani.

When people of high rank are being called to account, the integrity of the process should be there for all to see, to protect a country's reputation, let alone the imperatives of justice itself.

The palpable lack of respect shown for the families, and the memory, if the 19 people who died in that fire, 13 of them young children, is appalling. Its indulgence by the courts so far, doubly so.

Qatar's international reputation stands sorely at risk from the judicial weakness shown to this point. From this distance the court - and by extension Qatari legal process - has the sorry appearance of, if not yet corruption, then certainly a particularly abject stripe of impotent inertia.

From the up-close and aching perspective of the bereaved families, it must be a continuing nightmare. The triplets' parents Martin and Jane Weekes, are entitled to be incandescent with anger. How on earth they could contain such emotions while they still try to cope with the deaths of Lillie, Jackson and Willsher is just about incomprehensible.

For their part the judges point out they have previously sent notices to the no-show defendants. They had even sent court representatives knocking on the door of Al Kuwari's office.

Who, exactly, should be impressed by that? We have door-to-door salesmen more persistent - in some cases, more insistent too.

It remains to be seen whether there is any real force, rather than mere yapping, behind the warning of a court official that the next hearing date, November 29, represents the last time Al Kuwari could be "amicably" tried. In other words, after that she would lose the chance to mount a defence.

The bereft parents have appealed to Prime Minister John Key to become personally involved, to which he has said he would be happy to intervene "directly in the process if required". So he's not ruling it out.

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Gratifying though it may be to think of New Zealand authorities weighing in, this essentially remains a matter for Qatar. A country that has a lot to prove. In fact, as things stand, it has an international reputation to rehabilitate.

- The Southland Times

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