The need to respect due process in New Zealand courts


In the nearly one week that has passed since the murder of Grace Millane, there has been an understandably big out pouring of grief. Her murder shocked people.

Understandably there are a lot of people angry about the murder of Grace Millane. People want Grace’s alleged murderer brought to justice and everyone has their own opinion – which they are perfectly entitled to – about what fate Ms Millane’s murderer, whoever it might be, should suffer.

BUT many of these people also want his name suppression wiped. Many of them think that the judge made a bad mistake. I have reservations myself, but they are countered by the fact that the accused has as much a right to a fair trial as the victim has to justice. So people are now resorting to Google searches to find out his name. 50,000 New Zealanders have done it.

These potentially violate New Zealand criminal law. They potentially threaten to derail the trial before it even starts. But I wonder how many of these people doing this will accept that and desist.

Except that it is not just New Zealanders doing it. Google is accused of having aided the violations by allowing the prominent placing of articles in its search engine hits telling us who *allegedly* did it. So too are British newspapers including The Daily Mail.

There are people calling for the death penalty – separate subject – as if the accused has already been convicted, when in actual fact a plea has yet to be entered and will not be until 23 January 2019 at the earliest. On this day the accused will reappear before the court. They seem to forget that a trial has yet to be set down, much less held. We do not know if the alleged murder is even the alleged murder. Right now he is – for all we know – innocent.

Being Judge, Jury and Executioner before a plea has even been entered is premature, prejudicial and along with the violations of the suppression orders, potentially threatens the whole trial. One cannot have justice for the victim if the trial is aborted due to interference or the absence of the conditions necessary for it to be fair and impartial.

I want to see justice for Ms Millane and her family and best friends whose lives at the moment I imagine have been turned up side down and there is no way to undo it. However this does not come at the expense of needing to follow “due process”, a term whose use when I write it in a comment has caused much anger and negativity. Due process is the act of carrying out the necessary procedures to ensure a fair and impartial trial that is not hijacked by individuals or interests in the name of vigilante justice.

So, my message is simple as it is blunt. Hold your horses and put away the knives. You do not know yet who did it and I bet you would not want to be found to have judged an innocent man otherwise.

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