The Greens will oppose this bill because we cannot have two laws – one for the Police, and one for others. If there is special treatment for public officials, we will go down the path of two standards of justice, and the police are a category of public officials who have to have proper public accountability.
I think it is particularly important in a democratic system for police to be fully accountable, and equal to every other member of the public, because of the powers that they have in our society. If we limit the justice applied to them, then, as we have seen overseas, we will be going down the track of more arbitrary application of those powers, possibly involving corruption. We have an advantage in New Zealand at the present time in that our police force is one of the least corrupt in the world.
I think it is wrong for Paul Hutchison to say that New Zealand is a special case, and that police lives are somehow in added danger because we have an unarmed police force. I think it is the opposite. Paul Hutchison went on to talk about the violence he had seen in America, and because the police are armed over there there is much more conflict, both in terms of criminals shooting police, and more violent actions taken by police against criminals.
It is because we have a less violent scene here, and a better police force, without the same history of conscious murders by police of innocent citizens, that this proposed law change has gained some traction, contrary to the United States, where there was the Rodney King incident a few years ago. That involved the vicious beating of an innocent black person in Los Angeles by the police. It is quite clear that, in that situation, one needs to have all information available, and the names of the police officers involved in an extreme case like that should be out in the public space so that people can come forward with more information on those people who were later accused of the crime, and to overcome any corruption that does exist in police forces like that.
As I said, I cannot think of a Rodney King-type case here. The killings that have taken place here have not been of that conscious nature; they have been more accidental in their character. That is why we have a media convention in New Zealand not to publish the name of the police officer in a situation like that, because we do have respect for police when they accidentally commit such killings. However, there does need to be the potential for that openness to take place.
In certain situations it can be useful for the name of a person who does the killings to be known, so that, just as with justice as a whole, witnesses can perhaps come forward with more information about the people who did the killing, and I am referring there more to the Rodney King-type case than to any cases we have seen in New Zealand.
I think Phil Goff has referred to the particular provisions relating to the use of the Police Complaints Authority as the channel for restrictions on the publication of names, which is not appropriate in terms of the more neutral functions of the Police Complaints Authority. Moreover, the Police Complaints Authority often has a very delayed reporting system. In my own case, I have been waiting for nearly 4 years for a result from the Police Complaints Authority. Should a name be protected for that length of time before there is any ruling under this bill by the Police Complaints Authority personnel? In other cases the Police Complaints Authority often waits for a coroner’s decision – as was the case in the Wallace case – and for other court cases to take place before it comes down with its own decision.
Other people have criticised the Wallace case, but I believe the way it evolved was a good example of our justice system. Private citizens did have the right to go through a court process, which I think was for the benefit of the whole community. As Stephen Franks said, the community knew who the police officer was – which was inevitable – and that may have assisted in taking that case to trial, in that the community would have known some of the background of that particular case. I do think the police officer had some confusion as to the identity of the person who got shot, and the community helped to bring that to light.