It is probably not too great an exaggeration to say that the justice system let out a collective sigh of relief when Mark Lundy was convicted for a second time of the murder of his wife and daughter. A verdict of not guilty, coming so soon after the miscarriages involving Teina Pora and David Bain, and with David Dougherty and Arthur Allan Thomas still in the memory, was not one it would have been keen to contemplate. For none would this have been truer than the police.
Yet even the Lundy verdict could not paper over the questions raised about the investigation that led to the original conviction 13 years ago.
The catalogue of injustice has led Otago University lecturer Bryce Edwards today to suggest our judicial system has serious problems. One of his key concerns is the role played by the Independent Police Conduct Authority. Set up as an independent body after the shooting of Steven Wallace in Waitara 15 years ago, it has several glaring shortcomings. These include the inability to start its own investigations and to enforce its recommendations. The police can effectively thumb their nose at its findings, as they did in response to the authority's 2010 report into the shooting of liquor store owner Navtej Singh.
The police's failings in recent years mean they should expect more scrutiny. The authority, however, is shackled in vital ways. This has had an obvious impact on public trust and put pressure on police to amend their ways. As much was underlined by the authority's damning report on the Roast Busters investigation. Its finding that at least seven cases of underage sex went largely uninvestigated by West Auckland detectives said much about the force's resistance to change.
Eight years ago, Dame Margaret Bazley's commission of inquiry into police conduct talked of the need for changes in the force's attitude and behaviour. She was concerned it could not sustain the necessary impetus to repair its culture. The Roast Busters case can only suggest her misgivings were well founded. Repeatedly, when police failings have been exposed, department heads have apologised publicly and resolved to improve. Subsequent events speak for themselves.
This is where the Independent Police Conduct Authority can play a key role. Under the leadership of Judge Sir David Carruthers, it appears to be adopting a more questioning line. But it can go only so far if, in important ways, its hands are tied. Handed the ability to be more proactive and commanding, it could be the catalyst for improved police conduct. In quick time, that would lead to a recovery of public faith in the force.