Sir Peter Williams QC Penal Reform League's Northland branch formed

By Imran Ali -
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Volunteers on the Sir Peter Williams QC Penal Reform League's Northland branch at their inaugural meeting at Thomson Wilson law. Photo/Michael Cunningham
Volunteers on the Sir Peter Williams QC Penal Reform League's Northland branch at their inaugural meeting at Thomson Wilson law. Photo/Michael Cunningham

A volunteer group advocating for, among other things, fair outcomes in the justice penal system and rehabilitation of prisoners has formed a branch in Northland.

The Sir Peter Williams QC Penal Reform League's Northland branch has had its inaugural meeting in Whangarei to discuss issues regarding injustice, breaches by police and Corrections, and court proceedings in general.

In late 2015 the Prison Reform Society, which was formed in 2011, was renamed The Sir Peter Williams QC Penal Reform League.

Sir Peter died, 80, in June 2015 after a career marked by many high-profile defences. He advocated tirelessly for more humane treatment of prisoners.

Sir Peter's widow, Lady Heeni Phillips-Williams, initiated the formation of a Northland branch to continue his legacy.

She was at the Northland branch's inaugural meeting at Thomson Wilson Law where the region's prominent defence lawyer Arthur Fairley was elected president unopposed.

Whangarei lawyers Aaron Dooney, Nick Leader, Aaron Harvey and Noela Fidow, Isabella Cherrington of Ngati Hine Hauora Trust, Len Bristowe of Ngati Hine Radio, and Evon Morgan of Book Inn in Kamo were among those who attended.

Lady Heeni said she believed there was a strong need for a branch to be based in Northland for several reasons.

They included a larger than normal Maori population, and the fact Northland was renowned for the wrong reasons such as drug use, gangs and unemployment.

"We just continue the work and penal reform kaupapa set down by Sir Peter many years ago, speaking out whenever there is a need to do so regarding injustice, unfairness, breaches by the police and so on," she said.

"It is most unfortunate that sometimes government departments do go over the edge and in the process breach and break rules."

Lady Heeni said lawyers such as Mr Fairley had local knowledge of the alleged injustices by police and Corrections in Northland.

Mr Fairley said the group of volunteers would add to the many voices on issues Sir Peter advocated for and worked to achieve.

Access to their clients on remand through personal visits or phone calls were among challenges faced by Northland lawyers, he said.

"Our view is there's a need for a group or a voice, and I advisedly call it a voice because we're all volunteers, that can speak up on various topics," he said.

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