Green Party MP Keith Locke today applauded the decision by Solicitor-General David Collins not to allow the Police to press terrorism charges against the recently arrested group of Maori, peace and environmentalist activists.
"The Solicitor-General had a clear test to meet. He had to be satisfied that the Police had admissible and reliable evidence strong enough to make a prima facie case, and credible enough to possibly enable a conviction beyond reasonable doubt. Evidently, the hurdle proved too high for the Police to meet," Mr Locke says.
"The decision is the first step back towards a more sensible assessment of the terrorism risks facing this country. Crimes committed for religious or political reasons are serious, but they do not mean we need to create a different set of laws and legal processes to deal with them. All the offences conceivable under the umbrella of terrorism — murder, conspiracy to murder, firearms charges, property destruction — are already covered under the Crimes Act, with the advantage of clear precedents and transparent methods of testing the evidence. These safeguards do not apply automatically to charges of terrorism.
"The Solicitor-General has gone a long way towards meeting public concerns. New Zealanders want to hear the evidence for these charges in open court, so that they can make up their own minds about the validity of the charges, and judge for themselves whether the Police may have exceeded their brief. Under the invoking of terrorism laws, those wishes are likely to have been frustrated. Justice would have been neither speedy nor transparent," Mr Locke says.
"If the terrorism charges had proceeded, we would have faced a lengthy and closed process, in which secrecy provisions could have been invoked around both the evidence and the operational procedures used by the SIS and Police to gather it. Potentially, this could have compromised the defendants rights to know and rebut the relevant evidence, while denying the public's ability to decide whether its confidence in — or misgivings about — the Crown case were soundly based.
"This decision will have a liberating effect on political action. Until the issues raised by these arrests were resolved, the spectre of terrorism charges could not help but cast a shadow over legitimate social protest in this country. The Solicitor-General is to be congratulated for ensuring that criminal charges are pursued and prosecuted in the criminal courts, while political action is treated as a threat to national security in only the most extreme situations — which this case evidently, was not. " Mr Locke says.