Sunday, July 6, 2014

Racial discrimination in NZ law has to stop

Life in New Zealand is pretty good. Our country is uncrowded, our economy has come through the global recession in relatively good shape and we have been able to retain our open, largely self-reliant society in the face of the post-9/11 security craziness that has engulfed the rest of the world. However, there is a cancer that threatens to overturn all that is good about New Zealand. That cancer is racial discrimination in favour of Maori.

Last week we saw one of the most disgusting cases of this discrimination when Auckland District Court judge Philippa Cunningham discharged a young man named Korotangi Paki without conviction on charges of drink driving, burglary and theft (see the NZ Herald article here). These are not trivial charges. New Zealand, like many other Western countries, treats driving while under the influence of alcohol as a significant crime, in some cases sentencing perpetrators to prison. Paki, who is 19 years of age, had a breath-alcohol reading of 761. The limit for adults over 20 years of age is 400 but for drivers under 20 it is zero. As for the burglary charge, anyone who has been the victim of a burglary knows just what a terribly intrusive crime it is, even if there is no associated violence. These are not Paki's first criminal offences - he was charged with dangerous driving as a result of a motor vehicle accident in 2011.

So what were the grounds for discharging Paki without conviction? It was simply that he was the son of the so-called Maori king. I say 'so-called' because Paki's father, Tuheitia Paki, who is the head of a group of Maori tribes in the middle of New Zealand's North Island, has no legal or constitutional authority and is not even recognised as the monarch by most other Maori. 

I recall the case of Princess Anne in 2001 who was convicted of breaking the speed limit and accepted her conviction and fine without evasion. Her conviction was a symbol of the 'without fear or favour' that historically has been characteristic of English law and is what we expect of our public figures and the judiciary in New Zealand.

I can reluctantly accept the New Zealand taxpayer dolling out vast sums of money to Maori tribes for Treaty of Waitangi claims (although I have previously written about the highly dubious merits of some of these claims) but I cannot accept some New Zealanders being treated differently by our criminal justice system because of their race. Equality before the law goes back in our tradition to the Magna Carta and it is one of the benefits Maori received when they accepted British rule in 1840.  As a society we have nothing without equality before the law and the discharge of Paki is a huge indictment on New Zealand's legal system and society.