NZ news

Shayne Currie and the mystery of the ever-changing statement

In my previous post, I quoted the statement posted online by Shayne Currie, NZ Herald editor, in response to questions as to Rachel Glucina’s ethics. It’s a statement that was initially posted, disappeared, and was then re-posted.

What I hadn’t realised is that some quite fundamental changes were made to the statement between being posted and then being re-posted. They’ve been mapped by Peter Aranyi, author of the excellent On The Paepae blog, via Twitter:

Shayne Currie statement

The most pertinent change would seem to be the removal of the words “No objections were raised” from the second-to-last paragraph. Did Mr Currie, on second thoughts, realise that such a statement was indefensible?

Then note, in paragraph three, the inclusion of the phrase, “Regardless of any confusion over the initial approach, all three agreed they wanted to make a public statement.” As I’ve previously written, the  confusion seems to have been manufactured by Glucina, as she first assured everyone involved that she was acting as a PR expert, before abruptly changing tack and donning her NZ Herald journalist hat. Currie seems to accept that Glucina, at the very least, was more than a little unclear about what her role was to be.

And note that final paragraph, in whichever iteration pleases you:

“By then [or By early evening I was assured that] no was in doubt that the article, quotes and photograph were appearing in the Herald.”

Again, Currie’s statement make it abundantly clear that the subjects of the article – the waitress and her employers – had not earlier been aware that Glucina was intending to release their quotes and photo as a Herald scoop. Presumably, after the objections were raised, they were simply told that the Herald were going to publish, regardless of the objections and ethical issues raised.

Questions, questions and more questions…

NZ folds to Israel

Back in September of last year, a diplomatic stoush broke out between New Zealand and Israel. Our nominated ambassador to Israel, Jonathan Curr, was rejected by Israel, as he was also our representative in Palestine.

Despite New Zelaand’s ambassador having performed both roles since 2008 (as well as being our representative in Turkey), Israel declared:

“It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Given that it quite patently wasn’t a protocol principle that had been applied to New Zealand, I wrote at the time:

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Unfortunately, New Zealand has now folded to Israel. Jonathan Curr remains ambassador to Israel, while former National Party leader and deputy Prime Minister Jim McClay will be our representative in Palestine.

Except that he won’t actually be based in Palestine, or indeed anywhere near Palestine. He’ll be based in Wellington.

The NZ Herald states in an editorial today:

Israel’s motive was clear enough. It had been irked by this country’s increasingly critical statements about its activities, such as appropriation of privately owned Palestinian land for Israeli settlements and the shelling of Gaza. The level of condemnation harked back to that of Helen Clark’s Government during a period when relations sank to an especially low point.

The editorial goes on to note that Israel should hardly have been surprised by New Zealand’s level of criticism. We were pursuing a seat on the UN Security Council, and with one of our rivals for the seat being Turkey, we needed to court the Islamic nations.

To obtain the Security Council seat, we successfully marketed ourselves as being able to provide “a fresh, independent perspective”. To my mind, we’ve somewhat undermined ourselves in that regard by simply giving in to Israel’s unprincipled demands.

As quote the conclusion of the Herald’s editorial:

[Israel] offered no real justification for its demand. It has merely waved a stick and won. The loser is this country’s international standing.

How to spot a cannabis plot

Should you not know how to recognise a cannabis plant, the Southland District police have released a helpful poster:

Cannabis Wanted! Southland Police are committed to ensuring the population knows what cannabis looks like...

Cannabis Wanted! Southland Police are committed to ensuring the population knows what cannabis looks like…

And to aid in the hunt, Stuff reports that they’ve even issued “a helpful guide to identify cannabis operations”. Should you be blissfully ignorant about how people grow cannabis, I guess it’s always good to know that:

People carrying shovels, spades and similar equipment into the bush may be up to no good, as may people repeatedly visiting places at unusual times.

Unusual sightings of lights, head torches, and headlights in rural areas at night may be people growing marijuana.

And did you also know that cannabis can be grown inside?!?

Constantly closed curtains and blacked-out windows, with bright lights on constantly or at strange times may indicate an illegal indoor gardening operation.

I have in fact had cause to call police to alert them to a cannabis growing operation, as, despite philosophically having no issue with people growing their own cannabis, I’d really rather they didn’t do it next to my house.

You see, between my property and the river lay a long swathe of bamboo, part of an ill-maintained council reserve. And at about midday one Monday, I heard the sound of much crashing about from within the bamboo. For a good half an hour, the crashing continued, as several individuals fought their way back and forth, never managing to emerge in the grass at the other end. Occasionally, out would ring the sound of a spade attempting to unsuccessfully dig through bamboo roots.

Eventually, they disappeared back from whence they had come, at which point I ventured down to check out what on earth they’d been up to. It was, of course, an attempt at cultivating cannabis, although they’d eventually given up on the spade-work and simply left several containers filled with dirt and young plants. They’d attempted to conceal the containers, using a screen of fallen bamboo, but this was largely unsuccessful due to one of the containers being a bright pink plastic box. Bright pink is not easy colour to disguise in the wild…

And so I called the local constabulary, who kindly came and took away the plants and their various containers. For ‘twould have been most unfortunate for the police to have located by other means a cannabis-growing operation right in front of a local defence lawyer’s house…

So keep an eye out, oh law abiding populace, for those with spades, head torches or constantly closed curtains. And remember also this further piece of enlightened advice from the Southern District police: a “distinctive smell” coming from rural areas or properties is another obvious sign. No, really?

Restorative Justice changes – thus far, a dog’s breakfast

Late last year, I wrote about a new change to the criminal sentencing process, involving the mass rollout of Restorative Justice:

Essentially, in every criminal case in the District Court where a guilty plea is entered and there is a victim or victims, the case must be adjourned for an investigation into whether a restorative justice meeting should occur. That’s a meeting between the offender and victim, presided over by a restorative justice coordinator, with the results of the meeting able to be taken into account at sentencing.

My post was in response to a column by Mike Yardley, who appeared to have simply reprinted a anti-Restorative Justice press release from the Sensible Sentencing Trust. In my post, I criticised Yardley and the Trust for their knee-jerk antipathy towards the entire concept of pre-sentence Restorative Justice. On the other hand, I agreed with the other main thrust of his column, which was that the new Restorative Justice system was likely to be hugely time-consuming and expensive.

To date, the new system has come under heavy fire, from both lawyers and judges. In Christchurch, earlier this month, Judge Alistair Garland described the forced delays as “an appalling situation”, before going on to state that:

“Not only do we now have this mandatory referral, but there appears to have been no consultation between the legislature and the community. It was wholly predictable that Restorative Justice Services would be completely overwhelmed.”

Meanwhile, in my home court of Gisborne, Judge Tony Adeane last week said that the court, and others in New Zealand, would grind to a halt if the requirement is carried out in strict compliance.

The major issue is that very basic projections don’t appear to have been carried out. In Christchurch, Restorative Justices services are apparently funded for only ten referrals per week. With current referrals this year estimated at about 70 per week, it’s obvious that things will grind to a halt. In Gisborne, a staff member at Te Runanganui o Ngati Porou, who run the region’s Restorative Justice services, confirmed that they were funded for just one referral per week. They would need to be applying for further funding, based on the number of referrals coming through.

I’m at a loss as to why these numbers hadn’t already been estimated and provided for by the Ministry of Justice on a court-by-court basis. The MoJ should surely have access to court-by-court figures regarding the percentage of cases that involved a specific victim or victims (as opposed to victims in general, for crimes such drug dealing, or victimless crime). It is mind-blowing that resources would not have been made available up front, ready for the influx of referrals, based on easily calculated projections.

However, on a tangent, let’s look at Judge Adeane’s criticism, cited above, that the courts would grind to a half if the requirement is carried out in strict compliance. What is strict compliance?

Section 24A of the Sentencing Act states that:

(1) This section applies if—

(a) an offender appears before a District Court at any time before sentencing; and
(b) the offender has pleaded guilty to the offence; and
(c) there are 1 or more victims of the offence; and
(d) no restorative justice process has previously occurred in relation to the offending; and
(e) the Registrar has informed the court that an appropriate restorative justice process can be accessed.

(2) The court must adjourn the proceedings to—

(a) enable inquiries to be made by a suitable person to determine whether a restorative justice process is appropriate in the circumstances of the case, taking into account the wishes of the victims; and
(b) enable a restorative justice process to occur if the inquiries made under paragraph (a) reveal that a restorative justice process is appropriate in the circumstances of the case.

The key issue to me is the requirement that a “suitable person” is to inquire as to whether Restorative Justice is appropriate. Just who a “suitable person” is isn’t defined. Must it be a Restorative Justice co-ordinator? Surely not, given that at Gisborne District Court those initial inquiries tend to be made by the Court’s victim advisor services.

If it doesn’t have to be a Restorative Justice co-ordinator, why then can’t the courts simply deem the police officer in charge of the case to be a suitable person? When the officer in charge takes a Victim Impact Statement, all they’d need to do is canvas with the victim whether they want to undergo Restorative Justice. If it’s made clear on the Victim Impact Statement that Restorative Justice isn’t wanted, why then adjourn the case? Sentencing should surely be able to proceed immediately.

And speaking of strict compliance, here’s another thing. The Registrar must have informed the court that an appropriate Restorative Justice process can be accessed. If there’s no funding for Court referrals, and Restorative Justice staff simply cannot cope with the workload, can the court simply rule that an appropriate process simply cannot be accessed?

That’s not to say that Restorative Justice is a Bad Thing. My previous post on the matter should make it clear that I’m a supporter of it. As the Howard League points out:

[R]esearch shows that it reduces reoffending by 12 percent, and that’s surely what matters. Less offending means less victims of crime.

Furthermore, the overwhelming majority of victims who undertake RJ benefit too: as one Ministry of Justice study shows, rates of satisfaction among victims who attend RJ are very high, with 74 percent saying that they felt better after attending a conference, 77 percent saying they were satisfied with the overall experience and 80 percent saying they would recommend restorative justice to others.

The initial failure of the new Restorative Justice system is one of logistics and bad drafting. It’s the fault of our lawmakers and their advisors. They failed to consult with the courts, the judges or the criminal bar. They seem to have failed to run basic projections, and even if those projections have been compiled, they’ve failed to provide funding based on them. All in all, they’ve completely failed to consider how the law would work in practice.

And in doing so, they’re giving Restorative Justice a bad name that is undeserved.

The folly of name suppression orders

“The law’s an ass” declared a “former National MP” after appearing in Waitakere District Court this morning, having been charged with breaching a name suppression order. The alleged breach relates to the naming on Twitter of a “well-known New Zealander” who was convicted of indecent assault.

The words “former National MP” are the description used by this report from the NZME News Service, used by the NZ Herald online. The article states that:

NZME News Service has chosen not to name the ex-MP because to do so would make the organisation complicit in helping to identify the well-known New Zealander.

That’s because the offence of breaching a suppression order could well be construed in quite ridiculously wide terms. The ex-MP’s tweet is still up on his Twitter page, meaning that naming the ex-MP would essentially direct the public to the information that allegedly breaches the suppression order. A Court may well consider the naming of the MP to therefore be “other information in breach of a suppression order” – an offence against s.211(2) of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011.

Section 211(2) is a strict liability offence. If you publish anything in breach of a suppression order, it doesn’t matter what your intent was: you’re guilty. However, the concept of “other information in breach of a suppression order” is a tricky one, given our Bill of Rights-mandated freedom of speech. At what point is “other information” allowed to be published, despite it leading people to the initial information that allegedly breached the order?

NZME News Service and the NZ Herald are evidently worried that naming the “former National MP” could result in legal consequences for them. But what about even providing the description “former National MP”? It’s not difficult to work out how many former National MPs are on Twitter, and a quick search through the obvious targets’ Twitter feeds would easily provide the identity of the MP and therefore the suppressed name of the criminal.

On the other hand, another major news organisation has published an article this morning naming the ex-MP. Now if that’s a breach, then if I were to name the news organisation or link to their article, I could conceivably be in breach of the suppression order myself. Of course, we don’t have too many major news organisations here in New Zealand, so by pointing readers to the existence of an article naming the former MP, could I be said to have breached the order regardless?

The inanity of the situation is perhaps best summed up by the person who tweeted this to the ex-MP:

“Best of luck @[name of ex-MP], in that thing we can’t talk about because of the thing we can’t talk about you talking about, today.”

You’d have to hope that if our news organisations were prosecuted for breaches, based on their articles reporting on the ex-MPs Court case, that our courts would read s.211 in such a way as to grant a wide scope for freedom of speech.

And the Banks saga rolls on…

It’s just been reported that John Banks has been successful in his appeal, with the Court of Appeal overturning his conviction and ordering a new trial.

The appeal hinged on the evidence of two US-based businessmen, David Schaeffer and Jeffery Karnes, who were at the lunch with Dotcom, Banks and their respective wives, when Dotcom claimed the donations were discussed. The Court has stated that:

“Although it was not fresh evidence, the Court was satisfied that if the evidence has been before Justice Wylie the outcome may have been different.”

The new trial will certainly be interesting, given the hit Dotcom’s credibility has taken over the Moment of Truth, and the forged email. However, the key piece of evidence for Justice Wylie wasn’t the lunchtime conversation. Instead, it was Mr Banks’ phone conversation on 8 February 2012 with Dotcom’s lawyer, Gregory Towers, in which Mr Towers called Banks to try and get Dotcom a better mattress in prison. Justice Wylie wrote at para 128 of his judgment:

“He [Mr Towers] said that Mr Banks told him that as much as he wished to publically [sic] support Mr Dotcom, it might backfire on Mr Dotcom if “it b/comes known about election support etc”. Mr Towers recorded this comment in a contemporaneous file note. He was confident that he had recorded the words that were spoken to him as best as he could. There was no evidence of Mr Dotcom having provided any other “election support” for Mr Banks. … I was satisfied that the discussion recorded in the file note could only have been a reference to the $50,000 donation by Mr Dotcom to Mr Banks’ 2010 mayoral campaign. In my view, Mr Towers’ evidence, and the file note, was compelling evidence, from a witness whose testimony was unimpeachable, that Mr Banks knew that the donations had, in fact, been made by Mr Dotcom.”

Will the new evidence lessen the impact of Gregory Towers’ evidence? Can Banks point to what other “election support” was provided by Dotcom? We shall see…

The saga rolls on…

Charging petrol station workers for drive-offs

So workers at Masterton’s Night ‘n Day store have had their pay docked when criminals drive off without paying. From the flood of complaints coming from around the country, it’s not a practice that is confined only to Masterton, nor is it confined to Night ‘n Day or Gull service stations.

Now I’m not an employment lawyer. My experience with petrol station drive-offs instead comes from the criminal law side of things, when the petrol station staff have CCTV footage or a staff ID of a numberplate and driver, and the information results in an arrest. BP stations seem to have a system where staff won’t activate the pump until they’ve ensured that their CCTV cameras have picked up the numberplate. Presumably it’s not a system that is widely used, as a spokesman for Z Energy has said that drive-offs cost Z about $1 million per year.

At any rate, the Night ‘n Day manager at the centre of the whole furore, Nick Lucas, seldom reported thefts to Police, even when a positive ID was made, because (according to his former staff members) he’d already got the money back by docking his staff’s wages.

As I’ve said, I’m not an employment lawyer, but the employment lawyers I’ve spoken to seem to think that it’s likely an illegal practice. Anyway, here’s some thoughts:

  • If service station employees are expected to prevent drive-offs by physically preventing vehicles from exiting the forecourt, surely that raises some significant health and safety issues? If the first clue to a drive-off is the customer getting back into their vehicle and starting their engine, is the staff member supposed to put their body on the line and be driven over by a departing criminal?
  • Service stations can mitigate the cost of drive-offs by having their pumps on pre-pay. They often choose not to, presumably because it’s more lucrative to have customers pay afterwards, when they’re more inclined to buy a sandwich and a soft drink.
  • If service stations put up decent cameras and record the licence plates and faces of all customers, most offenders can therefore be prosecuted by Police. If the prosecution is successful, the cost of petrol taken can generally be recouped by way of a reparation order at sentence.
  • If a service station fail to put in place systems to reduce the likelihood of drive-offs (by way of pre-pay pumps or cameras that might deter potential offenders) or to mitigate the costs of drive-offs (using evidence from said cameras to file Police complaints, resulting in reparation orders), then the service station has only itself to blame.
  • When I worked at Waste Management during my student years, staff could be fined if damage occurred to machinery due to employee negligence. That’s very different from docking a staff member’s pay due to events over which the staff member essentially has no control.

Idiot/Savant at No Right Turn suggests a boycott of the service station chains that allow the practice to continue at their franchises. As of right now, that seems to be Night ‘n Day, Gull, Mobil and Caltex…

The Glenn Inquiry blows whatever credibility it had left

When Sir Owen Glenn announced in 2012 that he was pouring $2 million into an independent inquiry in child abuse and domestic violence, there was a mixed reaction. Negative reaction focussed largely on whether the inquiry would be truly independent, with concerns that Sir Owen, as wielder of the purse strings, would have too large an influence over the inquiry’s methodology and conclusions. When the inquiry’s executive director Ruth Herbert and operations director Jessica Trask resigned in May 2013, citing a “breakdown in the relationship” with Sir Owen, those concerns seemed well-founded. Now, the latest debacle involves the inquiry’s figures regarding the cost of domestic violence. The NZ Herald reports:

A report by economist Suzanne Snively and Wellington theatre student Sherilee Kahui, published by the inquiry yesterday, said family violence cost New Zealand between $4.1 billion and $7 billion a year – up from Ms Snively’s last estimate in 1994 of just $1 billion. But the higher figure of $7 billion was based on a claim that 23.6 per cent of women born in Christchurch in 1977 suffered intimate partner violence in the year leading up to interviews when they were 25 in about 2002. That figure in the original paper published in 2005 by the Christchurch Health and Development Study actually refers to the number of men as well as women who scored 3 or 4 points on a violence victimisation scale for intimate partner violence. Two-thirds of people in the study scored below 3 points and 9.4 per cent scored above 4 points. Those scoring 3 or 4 points were described in the original paper as “predominantly a group of individuals reporting frequent minor psychological aggression and occasionally severe psychological aggression”, but “none reported any of the signs of severe domestic violence [injury or fearfulness]”.

The $7 billion figure was a late addition to the study, which initially contained only a “low-end” estimate of $4.1 billion and a “moderate scenario” of $4.5 billion. So what was the justification given for suddenly messing with the numbers? Well, according to the Herald:

The high-end estimate was added after experts in Auckland and Wellington said they believed the true domestic violence victimisation rates were higher than the “moderate scenario” rates of 18.2 per cent for women and 1.9 per cent for men. “We were struggling to find empirical evidence of an estimate that would be higher than 18.2 per cent,” Ms Kahui said. “So it was about finding something higher.”

Really? The experts didn’t like the data they had, so they went looking for anything that would better suit the conclusion they wanted to reach? And when they found a different study, they misinterpreted it, but didn’t notice they’d made a mistake, because their mistake matched their gut feeling prejudices?

Which is a great pity, because the “low-end” and “moderate scenario” figures of $4.1 and $4.5 billion were already large numbers, which should surely be of concern to any public policy-maker.

Unfortunately though, when researchers have already admitted essentially massaging the data to fit what their in-built biases consider the numbers should have looked like, it certainly raises questions about any subsequent conclusions they might draw.

Israel rejects our ambassador

Israel has refused to accept New Zealand’s nominated ambassador, Jonathan Curr. 3News reports that Curr was rejected by Israel as he also represents us in Palestine.

Here’s the Israeli viewpoint:

“Israel maintains good relations with New Zealand and we shall continue striving to foster them.

“The issue in question is totally unconnected to the good relations between the two countries. It is a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years and is applicable to all the ambassadors who are accredited to Israel.”

Unfortunately, that doesn’t tally with reality. After all, here’s John Key on the issue:

“Historically the case has been that whoever we accredited for Israel, we also accredited for Palestine… [and] for Turkey,”

So it isn’t “a protocol principle which has been in practice for many years”. And if it has been, it hasn’t been applied to New Zealand.

Frankly, there’s an obvious solution here. Leave Mr Curr in place as our ambassador to Palestine and Turkey, and appoint no replacement to Israel. If the Israeli relationship with NZ is as good as Israel says it is, our Government will undoubtedly receive a call from Israel saying that Mr Curr has been approved. Protocols can be relaxed… After all, Israel may well feel a little awkward that NZ has better diplomatic relations with Palestine than with Israel…

And if Israel doesn’t make the call, well, we can always transmit any diplomatic messages to Israel via their ambassador to NZ.

Trust NZ Police crime stats? Sure can’t…

The Herald on Sunday has revealed this morning that between 2009 and 2012, 700 instances of burglary offending in Counties Manukau were incorrectly “recoded”, recorded instead as more minor crimes, such as theft or wilful damage, or as “incidents”, which aren’t counted in the crime statistics at all.

The Independent Police Conduct Authority has completed a review into the recording of burglary offending in Counties Manukau, and has concluded that burglaries were recoded at a rate of 15% to 30% between 2009 and 2012 in Counties Manukau south, in comparison to a rate of about 5% in other areas.

Anne Tolley says there was no pressure from the Government to fudge the statistics. I’d note that pressure does not have to be overt for it to still occur.

However, the problem does not appear to have been in relation to even the whole of Counties Manukau district; instead it was confined to Counties Manukau south. And the Herald article points plainly to why the recoding likely occurred and where a large degree of the pressure likely came from.

Counties Manukau and Gisborne are the country’s burglary capitals, and in February 2010 Counties Manukau south received a new area commander, Gary Hill, who declared that his key priority was cutting burglary statistics. When the recoding was discovered, five police staff were sanctioned, including area commander Hill. It doesn’t take a genius to presume that an ambitious new area commander might well have shoulder-tapped a few loyal staff and given a wink and a nudge to the effect that downplaying of burglar reporting would be smiled upon.

Police deny that it was systematic. Although five staff were sanctioned, two internal police inquiries “found staff had simply failed to follow national guidelines for burglary coding”.

Whether it was systematic or not, is a little beside the point. As Labour’s police spokeswoman, Jacinda Ardern, points out in the Herald article:

[Ms] Ardern said it was an “incredibly damning” insight into how the crime statistics could be altered to match a certain agenda. “Political targets skew behaviour. In this case, the integrity of the crime statistics in that area have been seriously undermined.

You have to ask, does recoding or other statistical minimisation occur in other areas, such as domestic violence reporting? When police attend a domestic violence callout, is there pressure to hand out a basic warning or issue a Police Safety Order, rather than make an arrest and lay a criminal charge? Sometimes use of warnings or PSOs is good policing – intervention before a domestic situation escalates to the level of criminality; however, over-use of such tools can result in the minimisation of domestic violence in crime reporting.

The result of the fiddling of the burglary stats by certain Counties Manukau south staff means that a more cynical look is needed when politically hot types of crime suffer sudden falls. Those five police staff members have done police no favours.