PM’s remarks potentially prejudicial, Locke says

Prime Minister Helen Clark’s public statement that those arrested in the terrorism raids had ‘at the very least illicitly used firearms, constructed molotov cocktails and trained themselves in how to use napalm’ may be prejudicial to a matter still before the courts,” Greens MP Keith Locke says.

“Prior to the Prime Minister’s statement, the public officially knew only that the Police had laid firearms charges against the accused,” Mr Locke says.

“It is extraordinary that while these matters are still before the courts, the Prime Minister has chosen to go further and make statements — presumably based on private police briefings she has received — that presume the guilt of the accused on the firearms charges, and further link the accused to actions with the potential to influence the Solicitor-General’s decision on whether to endorse terrorism charges.

“The Prime Minister made these damaging statements for political purposes — in the context of a riposte to the Maori Party over its stance on the Trevor Mallard affair.

“The Prime Minister’s actions undermine the purpose of Attorney-General Michael Cullen’s delegation of the decision on laying terrorism charges to the Solicitor-General — a convention regarding decisions about criminal proceedings that is meant to ensure, as Dr Cullen told the Legal Research Foundation in a May 2005 speech, ‘that criminal justice in New Zealand is administered free from political direction or influence.’

“The Prime Minister has, on this occasion, violated that convention. To score a political point, she has cited and judged evidence against the accused, seemingly oblivious to the danger of this being seen to influence the Solicitor-General’s decision on terrorism charges.

“Reportedly, any court cases resulting from the terrorism raids may take until 2009 to be resolved. In the wake of costly Crown mistakes made during the Zaoui case which lengthened the proceedings considerably, it would be wise for the Prime Minister to refrain from any further comments that could taint the legal proceedings,” Mr Locke says.