Pitcairn Trials Bill – Third Reading

There has been a good discussion in the House over the stages of this debate, from the second reading, through the Committee stages, to the debate we are having today. I think everyone is well motivated in this debate. We all want any alleged victims to see justice, and the Green Party, right from the beginning, has supported the intention of this bill to help bring the perpetrators of what seem to be sex offences to justice.

But supporting the intention of the bill does not mean we think the bill is the best way to enable justice for the alleged victims in this circumstance to be brought about.

The trouble is that to proceed this way, having the trials in New Zealand, could be counter-productive if the trials are essentially opposed by what, as far as we can tell, is the whole community. We have no evidence, so far, from any source, that there is other than opposition by the whole community, and if we do not take the community with us, it will be difficult to proceed effectively with the trials, wherever they are held.

In this case, by holding them in New Zealand and not taking the community with us, those trials will not necessarily bring justice for any alleged victims. That is unfortunate, because we have to get people to cooperate with the trial. I had a look back over the written submissions from the various Pitcairners, both resident in the islands and living in New Zealand. They are quite varied in their content, and all appear genuinely heartfelt in terms of their opposition to trials being held in New Zealand and their support for trials to be held on Pitcairn. I do not think the motivation behind most, or all, of those submissions was self-serving or trying to help cover up any criminal activity.

The picture we gained was not that of a divided community, where everyone was hostile to each other. In fact, the evidence was more that it is a community that generally works together, both in the Pitcairns and, through extension, in New Zealand.

Clearly, it is a community with some historic problems, and that came through. It has come through in the debate today, as well, and it appears from the evidence that the community is interested in dealing with those historic problems, and willing to deal with them, for the benefit of the community and to move on as a community.

Various questions came up, such as whether there are facilities on the island for such trials. It is clear that the British intended the trials to be on the island for a start. That is why they built the prison and the accommodation block. Pictures of those facilities have been shown around. Also, the provision of a video link, referred to earlier in the debate, would make it easier to hold the trial on Pitcairn, because any witnesses in New Zealand could, if they wished, give evidence to the trial in the Pitcairns by video link. I support what Ron Mark said. It is clear that if we just put our minds and resources to it, there could be trials on Pitcairn.

People ask–and this is a question Stephen Franks has raised too–whether one can have a fair trial in such a small community. Sometimes trials are moved to a larger setting. There are a couple of points there.

Of course, there can be problems with trials in a small community, but in this case it appears they will not be jury trials. There will be an independent judge, who will come in and assess the evidence. From the evidence we have, I think the trials could proceed in an effective way with the judge and the officials making sure there is a fair trial. If the trials were held in New Zealand, any negative pressures would occur here also, with the substantial attendance, no doubt, of various people from Pitcairn in the galleries. So I do not think there would be any difference, effectively, in that respect.

The other option put forward by the Pitcairn Islanders was, as I understand it, supported by almost every woman on Pitcairn. They got together and put a proposal to the governor several months ago to have a truth and reconciliation process, as they called it.

A couple of people were not part of that submission to the governor because they had recently arrived on the island, but it seems to have been a proposal that was initiated by, and had the support of, the women on the island. Of course questions are raised in one’s mind about whether such a process, instead of having trials, is the means for a cover-up. A process of truth and reconciliation, or a restorative justice process, can take place alongside trials for the most serious crimes, as well, so the two are not necessarily a substitute for each other.

We can also raise the question of whether such a process can be conducted effectively in small communities. In talking to some of the people in New Zealand who have been engaged in restorative justice, experiments in marae-based justice, one learns that these processes can be conducted in small communities, but the right expertise has to be brought to them. One has to bring in independent expertise. For the process to work, there have to be independent people. In this case they would presumably have to come from outside to run the process. A truth and reconciliation or restorative justice process can be advantageous in getting all the information, if it is done right. It would have to be assessed as it goes along, according to the wishes of the people, particularly the wishes of the women concerned.

Restorative justice, or a truth and reconciliation process, can bring out more information. That is the whole point. With an adversarial system, both sides are trying to hide some of the information, but a restorative justice process aims to bring it all out, put it on the table, and discuss it. It aims to get at people’s motivations – why did they do this? It tries to get some honesty and admission of guilt. That is the whole nature of these systems, as they have operated in New Zealand.

First of all, the alleged victims have to be happy with the process. They have to be happy to engage with it and have some trust in it. We always have to come back to the alleged victims, in terms of whether it will be a success and should continue, or whether it should be abandoned in favour of a trial system.

Also, we have to have the alleged offenders engage fully with it. If that does not happen, it cannot work. Then, the alleged victims have to assess, as we go down the track, whether there is that engagement from all sides and if they are gaining benefit from it, bringing out the true situation, getting some admissions of guilt, apologies – all the things that go with restorative justice.

The other thing about the Pitcairns, and I think it was pretty obvious from the submissioners when they were talking about this process, is that the larger community, the larger Pitcairn family both in the Pitcairns and New Zealand, would have to engage with this process.

One of the problems with trials in New Zealand, and I said it could be counterproductive if we do not take the community with us, is that although the trial will be held in New Zealand, the Pitcairn witnesses based in New Zealand cannot just be subpoenaed to the trial. There has to be some extradition proceedings to get them into a court, unless they go there willingly. From the evidence heard by the select committee they would not necessarily go there, so the justice process would be undermined and it would be to the disadvantage of the victims.

People are still grappling with this idea that Pitcairn Island is a small community. Is it really a nation? I do not think so. It is true that Pitcairn Island is a nation in the sense that the people have their own history and their own language. But we do not need to treat Pitcairn as an absolute nation. Niue, which has an association with New Zealand, does not have full national rights but we give its people the authority to have their own processes and their own trials.

We have to listen to the community. That is what I think we will have failed to do if we pass this bill. We will have failed to listen to the community and listen to what they want. These people have their own distinct identity and history. I think that if we do something against that will, we will frustrate the intention of this bill.

The smallness of the society creates additional problems. The smallness of the society and the history of mutiny on the Bounty are the reasons that the international media will be so interested in this trial. But the trials being held in New Zealand will impact hugely on the community, and the Pitcairn Islanders I think are justifiably concerned that they will be portrayed in the media as weird people.