Thursday, October 18, 2012

What was that about accountability?

Two heads should be rolling today. The first is that of Judge David McNaughton, who released Akshay Chand on bail despite a written plea from Christie Marceau, who had undergone a terrifying ordeal at Chand's hands and feared that he would come after her again. Police also opposed bail, pointing out to the judge that Chand was bent on revenge and that Christie was terrified of him.

McNaughton also had in front of him a letter from Chand, saying he was remorseful and wanted to apologise.

What did the judge do? He took Chand at his word and released him to live at a house just 300 metres from Christie. (He did, however, place him under a curfew and order him not to have any contact with Christie - a tragically misplaced gesture of faith in the magisterial power of his office.) Thirty-two days later, Christie was dead - stabbed an estimated 10 times in a frenzied attack by Chand on the back deck of her house. She died in her mother's arms.

Yesterday, Chand was found not guilty of murder by reason of insanity. The Crown Solicitor, Simon Moore, SC, said Chand told police after Christie died that his letter was  written with the sole purpose of getting bail so he could kill her. Thanks to the gullible judge, the ruse worked.

So: Christie is now dead, her family faces a lifetime of grief, and Chand will be put away in a mental health facility until it's deemed safe to let him back into the community. Judge McNaughton, meanwhile, will presumably continue to sit in the District Court and pull a salary of slightly less than $300,000 a year.

If he has a conscience, he will resign. If he doesn't, he should be dismissed. But of course, that never happens. Who can recall a member of the judiciary being fired because of an act of incompetence or shocking misjudgement?

McNaughton, incidentally, is the same judge who was  rebuked by the judicial conduct commissioner, Sir David Gascoigne, for overstepping the mark by ordering journalists out of his court when he was conducting a bail hearing in connection with the Kim Dotcom saga.

In that case, McNaughton showed not only a disregard for well-established principles of judicial openness, but also, intriguingly, a greater readiness to listen to the authorities. He refused to grant Dotcom bail - a decision subsequently reversed by another judge.

He got it wrong then, and he got it wrong again - with fatal consequences - in the case of Christie Marceau. Dotcom, who presented no threat to anyone, was put in the slammer while the homicidal Askhay Chand was released with a feeble instruction that he should behave himself. At what point does someone take McNaughton aside and suggest he's in the wrong job?

The other head that should roll is that of Air Vice Marshal Peter Stockwell, chief of the RNZAF. Stockwell may not be personally responsible for the cavalier attitude to safety that resulted in potentially dangerous goods being shipped on civilian flights; neither is he personally responsible, as far as we know, for the casual and perhaps wilfully deceptive way the air force dealt with the issue. But something is wrong when reports point to a culture of general slackness in the air force, as evidenced by the latest controversy and by the failings exposed by the court of inquiry into the Anzac Day helicopter crash of 2010.

It's not good enough for Defence Minister Jonathan Coleman airily to say that he has confidence in the air force and its leadership. Complacency and resigned acceptance seem to have become the default reactions whenever shortcomings are exposed in government. It often seems that the more we hear about accountability, the less we see it demonstrated.

When the head of an institution falls on his sword, even though he may not be personally responsible for whatever mishap or blunder has occurred, it sends a message that reverberates down through the ranks. It demonstrates that incompetence or wrongdoing has consequences. Our  system of government is built on that principle; it's about time we saw it honoured.

1 comment:

RobertM said...

In terms of NZ justice, appointments and status on the bench and the disfunction of the Air Forces command and control, it all relates to the place of the person and the institution in the NZ PC hierarcy.
The teenage son of a UK Polytechnic lecturer who is an Asian, not a skinhead and does not drink or hold strong right wing views -ie reject pacifism, non violence or unionism, woud be a subject of sympathy for the courts. Any judicial aspirant who fosters gay or percieved gay families with approprite paternalism would be on the fast track. The disfunction of the Air Force probably has something to do with the fact the force has been decapitated by Labour as a right wing violent bombers force with male hetro values- the Skyhawks put in museums, F-16s cancelled and Aermacchis boxed. A billion has been spent on unarmed NH90 helicopters and another billion on LAV personell carriers for army units, that hardly existed, so the LAV are in storage and the RNZAF has old Hercules and Orions with no a/s gear and a hollow tail.
Of course the male plebs and probably some of the females are uncontrollable dare devils its why they jointed the air force.