(Former) Law Society president Jonathan Temm upset that police are doing a good job

A rare occasion when the champion of the criminal, the NZ Herald, actually takes the side of police, so it’s worth highlighting since it’s a rare slip up in their usual anti-authoritarian stance.

Statistics rule our world in many ways, but their value is surely taken too far when they tell us the rate of successful criminal prosecutions is too high. That is what the New Zealand Law Society said when Statistics New Zealand reported the conviction rate to be its highest in at least 35 years. Last year, 83.2 per cent of people charged in our courts were convicted. Prosecution success rates have risen in 10 of the past 11 years.

“It’s heading the wrong way,” said Law Society president Jonathan Temm. “Our level should be constantly around the 75 per cent mark. Anything over 80 per cent (means) people are pleading guilty to things that in the past they would not have been convicted of.”

Really? How was that figure pre-determined to be the benchmark of justice? It is reminiscent of school exams in the days of “scaling”. If much more than 50 per cent of pupils passed the qualification, it meant the exam was not hard enough.

In that event, the education authorities used to scale back all marks so only the desired proportion passed. If more pupils than usual had been smart enough, or had studied hard enough, to pass that year, well, tough luck for some of them. At least, there is no suggestion some of each year’s convictions should be quashed to reduce the rate to 75 per cent retrospective, but that is a small mercy. Why can we not simply celebrate a rising success rate for those who bring charges to court?

It shows clearly that Police are doing an excellent job at deciding what will succeed in front of a court and what will be a waste of time or is hopeful thinking. I, personally, can’t see any down-side to criminals being convicted at higher rates. All this against a backdrop of a reduction in over-all crime!  

One reason, says the Criminal Bar Association, is police and Crown Solicitors are laying “inappropiately serious charges” for the sake of plea bargaining – manipulating defendants, in other words, to plead guilty to a lesser charge. The police reportedly acknowledge this has happened but they blame the prosecutors’ inexperience.

One barrister writing to the Herald noted the rise in the rate of convictions since a public defender service was set up in 2009, and blamed the volume of work they face. Previously, private lawyers had been accused of defending hopeless cases to get more fees, conceded Dr Richard Keam. “That may be so. But at least everybody got their day in court even if the poor old taxpayer got stuck with the bill.” The poor old taxpayer is probably happier if defence lawyers on state salaries no longer have an incentive to prolong hopeless cases with expensive trials.

The statistics also show fewer people are going through the courts. The number has dropped by almost 40 per cent since 2009, which corresponds with declines in overall crime in recent years, not just in New Zealand but in comparable countries.

If anything, the argument can be that not enough marginal cases are going through the courts, but then those would clog up the system even further.

The high conviction rate backs charging decisions, police investigations and ESR forensics’ hard work. In spite of some high-profile historical cases, policing since the Labour Government has clearly become more effective.


– NZ Herald


THANK YOU for being a subscriber. Because of you Whaleoil is going from strength to strength. It is a little known fact that Whaleoil subscribers are better in bed, good looking and highly intelligent. Sometimes all at once! Please Click Here Now to subscribe to an ad-free Whaleoil.

  • And the lawyer that was hired by Dotcom to assist with the creation of the Internet Party is showing his ability to throw in a ridiculous argument: (pic)

  • Quinton Hogg

    When was the herald article written?
    Jonathon Temm’s term as NZLS president ended 3 years ago.

  • Damon Mudgway

    I find it odd that there should be a line, as proffered by some lawyers. Justice to the layman isn’t a game for crying out loud. If the Police could simply prosecute where they do have ample evidence, and not polically and socially motivated cases, then ideally we should have no qualms from lawyers at all. But, (sigh)…sadly that will never be the case. Egos on both sides get in the way of true justice.


  • Just me

    So incarceration rates are up! Convictions are up! The prisons are fuller than ever… but low and behold reported crime is dropping… What is this trickery?!

    I noticed that not long after decreasing crime stats were announced that the
    bleating of liberals about Maori being locked away resurfaced. Calls for the Treaty to used as some kind of ethnic escape clause?!

    What would happen in that instance?
    A world where Maori criminals don’t need to be imprison – It would result in:
    A) Crime decreasing,
    B) Crime Increasing,
    C) Crime staying the same or
    D) Lefties insisting we spend more on providing a better standard of living for the perverts, reprobates, and scum that are causing the problem.

    If you picked B or D or both B & D you have a grasp on reality.

  • BigDogTalking

    Surely, with the underlying assumption that the system is working as it should, the conviction rate should be 100%.
    The police would not put up charges that they couldn’t prove and the courts would agree with them because the evidence was beyond reasonable doubt.

    You can easily make the counter claim that 17% of people who got off were innocent people unnecessarily brought before the court because the police and or prosecuting lawyers didn’t do their job properly and tried to convict an innocent person.

  • LesleyNZ

    These days the police are very thorough in their investigations. They know what evidence or lack of it – will and will not hold up in court. The police are also very good these days at anticipating and predicting what might happen in court with the defence lawyers. A case may take longer to investigate and the public may complain and assume that the police are being slack but they are not. The recent milk powder 1080 poisoning crime is a good example. As for Jonathan Temm. I personally have no time for him after what he said in 2011 about Fiji and the Fijian Government. He spoke totally without knowledge representing the NZ Law Society. “New Zealand Law Society president Jonathan Temm yesterday said Fiji is a totalitarian regime and noted four foreigners, including two New Zealanders, had recently died in unexplained circumstances in Fiji’s tourist belt, adding there was a degree of lawlessness and lack of transparency.” “Fiji critical of NZ Law Society” by MICHAEL FIELD http://www.stuff.co.nz/world/south-pacific/5628463/Fiji-critical-of-NZ-Law-Society No tourists died in unexplained circumstances at all. The Fijian Attorney General said it was a lie. Is Jonathan Temm doing exactly the same now – speaking out without knowledge of the whole story or all the facts and is he listening only to those who don’t like what is happening in the current NZ court system?

    By the way – I complained to the NZ Law Society about what Jonathan Temm said about Fiji. I received an interim reply from Malcolm Ellis NZ Law Society Complaints Service but I am still waiting to hear back from “Ms Christine Grice who is the Chief Executive of the New Zealand Law Society.”

    I have waited since September 19th 2011.

    Oh and I do remember the scaling back in school exams. It was very wrong.

  • andrewo

    It couldn’t be that the Law Society is ‘talking its book’?
    Put simply, watertight cases more often result in guilty please which in turn reduces the opportunity for lawyers to drag out cases and make money

  • Intrigued

    I’m surprised no one has postulated the theory yet that maybe the criminal lawyers today just aren’t as good at getting their clients off as perhaps they once were. Standards might be slipping?