The Importance of Due Process

In 2011, Christie Marceau was tragically killed.

Akshay Chand was her killer.

Chand was on bail when he killed her.

Facts.

When horrific events like this take place, we want to point the finger at someone, or something.

We want to say: “it’s your fault that this has happened”. This is especially true when the killer has been judged not guilty by reason of insanity — like Chand. We want to know how a person like Chand was ever allowed near Christie.

When something like this has happened, we want justice to be quick. But the subsequent unpacking of these issues is done under the clear and clinical light of hindsight.

Let’s be clear — Christie was not failed by the criminal justice system. That juggernaut rolls on with its set of rules (and decision makers who apply them) — often under immense pressure and scarce resources in a strategic direction, chosen by the last government that has led to a diminished ability for citizens to access justice.

We don’t live in some sort of Minority Report dystopian future. Decision makers don’t know the future. They have to rely on information available to them at the time and carefully apply the myriad of rules to the facts as presented.

It is likely that some will think that Chand should have been locked up in a system that already has one of the highest rates of imprisonment in the world.

Chand was not released on a technicality. He was on bail. This is an important procedural step in criminal cases. The right to bail is enshrined in our Bill of Rights Act. It helps to ensure that the principle of presumed innocence remains intact.

It is likely that some will blame the police, and the prosecution.

Police were also doing their jobs. After Chand was granted bail, police performed 23 bail checks on him. This entailed going to his house, and making sure that he was complying with all the conditions.

It is likely that some will think that the Coroner’s report does not go far enough.

It’s not the role of the Coroner to consider whether the District Court Judge exercised his judicial discretion to grant bail correctly.

Many of the recommendations of the Coroner’s Report relate to information sharing between parties. These are important, and should be considered strongly by the government.

The key point to take from all this is that New Zealand’s criminal justice system is an enormously complicated system of rapidly moving parts. It draws on hundreds of years of legal history to work in a way which is as effective and fair as possible.

In 1947, Winston Churchill said that “democracy is the worst form of Government except for all those other forms that have been tried from time to time”.

We can say similar things can be said about our criminal justice system. It’s the best we’ve got. We must take care that cases like Christie’s don’t lead to kneejerk reactions.

-

Thomas Harré

Barrister, LawAid International