The Independent Police Conduct Authority has released a critical report into Police actions during the Urewera raids. Sir David Curruthers found that, although action itself was reasonable and justified, many aspects of the raids were “unlawful, unjustified and unreasonable”. Curruthers recommends that the Police “re-engage with Tuhoe”.
Fat chance. The report is welcome – if small – vindication. The Police were in the wrong. The hurt isn’t easily mended, though. Re-engagement must happen on Tuhoe terms and a remedy must be given.
The corollary of a right is that it comes with a remedy. In the Urewera raids the Police illegally stopped, searched and detained drivers and their vehicles. Personal information was requested and collected. School buses were stopped and, according to Tuhoe, searched with children on board. The Police illegally detained women and children in their homes – in some cases for hours. The Ruatoki Valley was left humiliated, wounded and intimidated.
The vicious symbolism of setting up road blocks on the historic confiscation line was lost on no one. Militarising the Ruatoki Valley was not only unreasonable and disproportionate, it invoked the ghosts of history. The parallel to armed raids of Maungapohatu was lost on no one too.
But where to from here? The Police actions don’t appear to be criminal (in a legal sense at least, whether their actions were morally criminal is another question). A further problem is that there are several statutory bars preventing claims against the Crown or the Police in tort. The Limitation Act might also be relevant too.
However, a Bill of Rights claim is open. The victims can sue the Crown directly for public law damages. Depending on the circumstances of the claimant s18, s21, s22 and s23 could be relied on. Compensation isn’t the primary focus of public law remedies, but in this situation compensation is necessary to vindicate the rights that were breached, deter the Police and express society's disapproval. Punishment needs to happen too.
Rights must come with remedies. Here, there were clear breaches. The report acknowledges as much (if not in those words). It’s banana republic stuff. Bainimarama stuff. New Zealand has serious issues of Police (and intelligence community) competence. The Police not only regularly disregard the law, but evidence continues to suggest that they have a base disrespect for Maori. They shut down, degrade and intimidate a Maori community. A community with a deep history of Police oppression. They prosecute Maori at a rate wholly disproportionate to other ethnic groups. Don’t start on the anecdotes about Police harassment of Maori who look dodgy. The Police must be held accountable.
Post script: Full credit to Te Ururoa Flavell who has been strong on this from the day of the raids to today. His latest press release is here. I've been critical of his electorate work in the past, but not here. Good stuff.