At last, some common sense, Ctd

John Roughan takes aim at the dummy-spitting judge who let 21 hardened crim gang-members out on the street:

Was it really necessary to let indignation ruin a police case?

Undercover police work is probably the most dangerous public service anyone can be asked to do in this country. As an ordinary citizen, I don’t find it offensive that police would fake a prosecution to protect someone’s cover.

I find it harder to credit that a High Court judge would let 21 people off criminal charges to demonstrate judicial indignation.

If you didn’t read the news closely, or heard it only on TV, you might have the impression the phony prosecution was the one that was thrown out this week. It wasn’t.

The charade was done in a district court sometime earlier and Justice Simon France concedes it did not prejudice the case in front of him.

Nevertheless, he decided a stay of prosecution was necessary to protect the courts from deception and declare that the police must not abuse its procedures to assist a criminal investigation. Really?

An activist judge, who clearly doesn’t live in Nelson has let 21 bad bastards out on the streets.

Justice France thinks the Chief Judge, the late Russell Johnson, was not aware that this one was a complete set-up and that this would have made a difference to Judge Johnson, who I knew when he was a very popular prosecutor in Auckland.

Maybe the police deceived him. They were a little deceptive in their testimony to Justice France, not letting on initially that they had written their guidelines for a planned prosecution after the event.

Yet he prefers to conclude they did not intend to deceive anybody and believed they were acting legally. They were merely “reckless” and “unwise” not to have sought wider advice.

Why, then, did he find it necessary to undo all their work and grant the 21 arrested a stay of prosecution?

“A fraud is being committed on the courts,” he said. “The judges who are dealing with it are being treated in a disrespectful way. Their time is being taken up with a fiction.”

Forgive me some disrespect; time is not exactly a priority in the judicial process, as anyone who has answered a call to jury service well knows.

More seriously, Justice France declared, “It is no function of the court to facilitate a police investigation by lending its processes to the false creation of street credibility. The courts are not part of police investigation. There is and can be no suggestion of collaboration.”

Fine words, if they were true. What about when undercover officers are allowed to be charged under a false name?

“Perhaps the two situations are quite similar,” he concedes, “But from my viewpoint all that does is call into question the correctness of the false name practice.” Oh dear.

Undercover police work happens a long way from a High Court bench. It is not only dangerous, it is difficult. It has to deceive innocent people as well as the guilty if the agent is to be effective and safe.