Comment

By Peter Williams

The basic tenet, the guiding principle of our justice system, and the justice system of any civilised society is that everyone has a right to a fair trial and to be presumed innocent until proven guilty.

That's why there have been many disturbing moments in the aftermath of the discovery of Grace Millane's body, and the subsequent first court appearance of the alleged killer.

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As yet, we know nothing about how she died, where she died or how her body finished up at Scenic Drive in the Waitākeres.

The murder accused was given name suppression and will have that for at least the next 20 working days, maybe longer. There is nothing especially unusual about that, nor the method of it being imposed.

Once his lawyer said he was appealing the judge's decision not to grant suppression, then it automatically kicks in. It's the oldest trick in a defence lawyer's arsenal.

But the outcry against the suppression and the presumed guilt of this man by members of the public had way too much of a lynch mob mentality about it. Even the comments of the judge at the initial District Court hearing were unusual.

He offered sympathy to Grace's family, of course, and then said he hoped "this would be a fair, swift process and brings you some peace".

The ongoing problem of name suppression in the internet age cannot be solved. How do you legislate against websites based in overseas jurisdictions who decide that New Zealand law doesn't apply to them? The answer is you can't. The application of New Zealand law stops at the border.

So when a British tourist dies in this country and a man is accused of her murder, then the highly competitive British media is not going to hold back. When the actions of the tabloid press are reported back here, anybody who wants to know who the accused is can find out ridiculously easily.

The internet has compromised justice. You can't hold back the tide of technology, but the rights of the accused - and he still has them - have been affected.

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Then there's the matter of the Prime Minister's comments.

Has a New Zealand political leader ever made such an emotional comment about a homicide victim before? More pertinently, why would the Prime Minister think it appropriate to comment on one homicide victim in a week when there were at least three other homicides in the country?

Yes, the death of Grace Millane is truly shocking. We have a young woman, in the year of the MeToo movement, being killed. But why the outpouring of grief for her and not for Rima Sikei, a 21-year-old who died in Mt Albert on Friday night. Where was the Prime Minister's sympathy for him?

Or for Frank Tyson, whose decapitated body had been found in Lower Hutt the same weekend that Grace went missing?

Politicising a homicide case is not appropriate. Do it for one, and you really should do it for all.

The case of Grace Millane could not be more tragic. But let us remember we are a mature society which prides itself on justice for all. The police say they have a lot of work to do in their forensic examinations at both the CityLife Hotel and in the Waitākere Ranges. They can't present their prosecution case until they collect the evidence. A trial cannot take place until all the evidence is ready to be presented.

Amidst some way-too-emotional comments by people who should know better, the most principled stance has been taken by Kelvin Davis, the often embattled Labour deputy leader.

In his role as Minister of Tourism, he said he would not comment because the case was an ongoing police investigation.

Thank you for your sanity, Kelvin. We needed more of it this week.