Thursday, October 18, 2012

Government's only legitimate function...and it can't even get that right

Every now and then we see a criminal case that it so utterly appalling that it stands out even amongst the murders, assaults, rapes and burglaries that are all-too-common in our smug little "God's own country" down here in the South Pacific.  Such a case was the killing of Christie Marceau by Askay Chand.

These are the raw facts of the case.  In September 2011, Askay Chand kidnapped and threatened to rape Christie Marceau, who lived nearby.  Chand was imprisoned on remand for those offences but was released on bail after he wrote a letter to the judge expressing his remorse, despite the police and prosecutor strongly opposing his release.  Two months later he returned to Christie Marceau's house and stabbed her to death in front of her mother.  Yesterday in the Auckland High Court Chand was found not guilty by reason of insanity.

As a parent of two daughters, this case horrifies me.  After the first attack, Christie and her mother must have been living in abject fear that Chand would be released and would return to attack again.  They would have put their faith in the criminal justice system to protect them.  In New Zealand we have no choice but to trust that system - we are not allowed to possess the means of our own defence (even pepper spray is illegal).  Chand's return must have been like living through the worst nightmare for Christie and her mother - a nightmare from which that neither of them awoke.

I believe the state has one legitimate role - that of protecting its citizens from the initiation of violence against person and property.  Whether or not you believe that the state has other legitimate roles such as redistributing income to the poor,  you probably believe that the role of protecting citizens against violence is paramount.  If the state can't  get even this right, then there is something seriously wrong with our form of government.  Sure, people make mistakes, but there is no excuse for what happened to Christie Marceau after the signs were so obvious in the first attack by Askay.

At the very least, the judge who granted Askay bail should resign.  Under the doctrine of ministerial responsibility, the minister of justice should also resign.  There has been a call for a "Christie's Law" to tighten bail requirements by criminal justice campaigners, and Christie's mother has appeared at a Parliamentary select committee to speak in favour of this.  While I am seldom in favour of knee-jerk legislative responses to social issues, I think tighter bail laws is the least we can do as a society to ensure Christie's death was not in vain.