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Urewera raids: Lone judge to decide cases

Controversial firearms charges should be tried by jury, say human rights activists.

Raunatiri Hunt is one of three defendants to be trialled separately. Photo / Alan Gibson
Raunatiri Hunt is one of three defendants to be trialled separately. Photo / Alan Gibson

Most of the 18 people charged after the Urewera "terror" raids have been denied a jury trial.

Fifteen of the group, who are facing firearms charges stemming from police raids in 2007, will be tried before a judge alone when their case goes ahead in August.

Suppression has been lifted on the decision, after the Crown argued that it was in the public interest to know the sort of trial the 18 defendants would go through.

Human rights activists have decried the ruling, saying the high-profile, controversial case should be decided by a jury of peers.

The decision to not use a jury was made on December 9, but was suppressed by Justice Helen Winkelmann.

The lifting of the suppression order has also revealed that three defendants - Maraki Teepa, Tekaumarua Wharepouri and Raunatiri Hunt - will have separate trials from the other accused.

The reasoning behind both decisions remains suppressed.

Lawyers for the accused were reluctant to discuss the rulings yesterday, saying the case was "extremely sensitive".

One defendant, Valerie Morse, said in a statement that the defendants were being "railroaded" by the Crown.

She told the Herald she was "disappointed but not surprised" that she would not have her case decided by jury, saying it was the latest hurdle in an ordeal that had lasted four years.

Trials are sometimes held before a judge alone if the case is lengthy or very technical, such as in complicated fraud cases.

A jury can be difficult to retain if a case runs for months. The "Urewera 18" trial is set down for 12 weeks.

John Minto, spokesman for the Global Peace and Justice lobby group, said the trial before a judge alone could undermine public confidence in the court's findings.

"I think it is such a high-profile case that the people involved should be judged by their peers. It is quite wrong for it to be heard by a judge alone.

"There is a lot at stake for the Crown in this. A huge amount is invested in this case, not just financially. These are some of the highest-profile charges laid in the last 10 years. The judge will be under enormous pressure to convict people."

The trial comes four years after the raids, which were centred on the eastern Bay of Plenty but included arrests in Auckland, Hamilton, Palmerston North, Wellington and Christchurch.

Police believed the individuals were involved in paramilitary training for possible terrorist activity.

Initially, police wanted to charge some of the Urewera 18 - who include Tuhoe activist Tame Iti - under terrorism legislation, but this was ruled out by the Solicitor-General.

The raids were the culmination of a 12-month investigation into alleged weapons-training camps in the Urewera Ranges.

- NZ Herald

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