Simon Power, could you sit John Key down for ten minutes and explain our legal system to him?
Last week a jury of 12 New Zealanders found that the ‘Waihopai 3’ were not guilty on charges of burglary and willful damage.
Now, John Key is hinting at a law change. On Breakfast, he said:
“If that ruling was to stand does that set a precedent and if so does the law need to change in New Zealand like we changed the law around provocation?”
Oh dear me.
In our legal system, judges decide matters of law and juries decide matters of fact. The judge’s job in this case was to decide whether convictions were legally possible on the interpretation of facts as presented by the prosecution. It was the jury that decided the actual facts did not meet the legal test, and so the accused could not be convicted. So what law exactly does Key want to change?
And, no John, this case does not set a precedent for two reasons.
1) There is no novel finding of law. That’s what a precedent is: in a set of circumstances that haven’t come up before the judge decides how the law should be interpreted and other courts are bound to follow. But there was no new legal interpretation in this case. What’s got everyone excited is the finding of fact by the jury, which does not have precedent value because it is based on the unique facts.
2) the court was a district court. Even if the case did include a new legal interpretation, no other court would be bound to follow it. Courts are only subject to precedent set by higher courts, and district courts are the bottom of the ladder.
No precedent, no law to change.
It’s kind of scary the way the Right has reacted to this decision in such a heavy-handed manner. Not only is there this kneejerk reaction of looking to place yet more stringent laws on the population (which do little to change behaviour, just ask the boyracers still hooning around in their uncrushed cars), there are rumblings in the Nats of placing further restrictions on jury trials because, they think, juries can’t be trusted to make the ‘right’ decisions.
Anti-democratic elitism at its worst. But what did you expect from National?