Justice France will be remembered at the trial as the most brilliant legal mind on display.

Justice Simon France turned to the jury in the murder trial of Mark Lundy at the High Court in Wellington yesterday afternoon at 10 to one and said: "It's over to you." A moment later, he said again: "It's over to you." Then he thanked them, warmly, sincerely. "So that's it," he said, concluding seven weeks of legal argument. "It's a big thing being asked of you ... It's over to you."

It would seem, then, that it's over to the jury. They trooped out, armed with seven volumes of notes of evidence, with photo booklets showing the carnage that was visited on 30 Karamea Crescent in Palmerston North on the night of August 30, 2000, and with the directions of the judge still fresh in the ears. They were the recipients of a masterclass. He had spoken for nearly three hours. It was a superb summing up, a model of clear and nuanced thinking.

France is most famous as the judge who turfed a journalist out of a trial for wearing an apparently distracting pair of gold lame "disco pants". He will be remembered at the Lundy trial as the most brilliant legal mind on display these past seven weeks. He has presided over the court with good grace and unflagging attention to detail.

When the occasion has demanded it, he has taken over cross-examination, and got mute witnesses to squawk. One boffin tried talking over him. It wasn't a good idea. The court is France's domain, and he has ruled it with a silver bouffant.

Advertisement

Yesterday he took the jury through all the main points raised by the prosecution in its attempt to prove Lundy guilty of the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber. He also distilled the case for the defence, in particular the three "impossibilities" which suggest that Lundy can't have been in Palmerston North at the time of the killings.

The Crown says Lundy drove in the middle of the night from Petone to Palmerston North and hacked his family to death. He used one of his tools in the garage. He did it for Christine's life insurance. He confessed to a fellow inmate.

France spent most of his summary on the one subject that took up most time in the trial: the stains on Lundy's shirt. "If you accept that it is human brain, then the Crown's case is considerably strengthened ... Mrs Lundy's brain tissue is obviously a very significant thing."

The defence say the stain could be food splatter. His financial position was stable, and he wasn't in desperate need of an insurance pay-out. France to the jury: "Some of you may not know that small businesses owing money to people isn't unusual. And it's important to remember the recent change in their insurance policy wasn't at his instigation."

Justice Simon France.
Justice Simon France.

As for witness X, the inmate who claimed he heard Lundy's confession, the judge rather sighed, "I don't know how he appealed to you. Maybe you thought he was an engaging sort of chap. I'm not saying you can't accept his evidence, but great care is needed."

The public gallery was full. There was a kind of carnival atmosphere. People were excited to be there, to witness the end of a truly horrible saga in New Zealand history - the killings were so awful, so disgusting. For Lundy, there are two sets of monstrosities at stake. One, that the bastard did it, and has bleated a false innocence all these years. The second monstrousness is that he has been falsely accused all these years of the worst kind of murders - his own wife, his own child. Amber was 7. Christine was asleep when the first blow hit her skull, awake and fighting for her life as the attack got worse and worse and worse.

Justice France provided light relief when he asked for help on pronouncing a long and difficult scientific term, and gave two merry thumbs-up when he finally got it right. Also yesterday, he called defence lawyer David Hislop "Mr Wislop", claimed Lundy's first trial was in 2003 (it was 2002), and called the accused "Mr Lundry".

Dirty Lundry, or clean Lundry? It's over to the jury. "One can't believe impossible things," says Alice in Through the Looking-Glass. Lundy's defence claims three impossible things prevent the jury from believing Lundy did it. "If you accept he did not have enough petrol to make the trip," said Justice France of the defence's first impossibility, "you must acquit".

The alternative is to deliver a verdict of guilty, twice, for the murders of Christine and Amber Lundy. There are two charges, as Justice France reminded the jury. "Realistically," he said, "your answers will be the same for both". They may be given today.