Sunday, 29 August 2010

day 19: justice

this is another of those topics, though it doesn't appear so, that i'm thankful for in the negative sense ie i'm extremely thankful that i haven't had to interact with the justice system. i know that sounds like a pretty strange statement to make, so let me explain.

i'm extremely thankful that i've never been sued. a special and extremely heartfelt thanx goes to our predecessors who put in place the ACC system, which means that we have so much less litigation in this country, and yet people who have had accidents are supported. not all of them and not always very well, and the treatment of victims of sexual violence by ACC continues to be appalling. but in general, i much prefer the society we have than one where people live in fear of being sued.

i'm very happy to never had charges laid against me, and to have to go through the criminal justice system. i'm especially grateful for the fact that i've never been a suspect of a crime, so haven't had to sit through police interviews and have my private life and belongings rummaged through by the authorities as they seek to ascertain "the truth".

i am very glad that i haven't had to go to prison, nor even spend the night in a holding cell. i've never even been inside a prison, which means that none of my family or friends have been in prison either.

i'm even glad that i've been able to avoid police stations, other than to report burglaries for insurance purposes. in those cases, my interactions with the police have been positive, other times less so. but going into hamilton central police station isn't a fun experience, and i can only imagine what it must be like for people who have more serious issues to deal with.

i've never reported a serious crime, so haven't had to give evidence and face questioning in that regard from the police. i haven't had to go through a trial as the victim. the only time i've been in a court house, while in session, is when i had a summer job at the courts in hamilton, and they let me sit in on a case one morning just to see what it was like. i've been in the court of appeal when it was empty, and even climbed over the very high bench just so i could sit in the judge's chair. i'm seriously hoping that it wasn't caught on camera but really, i just couldn't resist the temptation! i've also had a tour of the district and high courts in hamilton, at said summer job, and yup, i sat on the judges chair then as well. what can i say, i have a warped mind & comments about delusions of grandeur will be allowed :) maybe i shouldn't mention here that i've also sat in the speaker's chair in parliament, the prime minister's seat - oops, too late!

i have had a couple of positive court experiences: going to see someone sworn in as a JP, and also being present when someone close to me was, well whatever you call that ceremony thing that lawyers do when they get admitted to the bar. those were really nice experiences.

but going back to being a victim interacting with the court process, i can only imagine what it's like to be grilled on the witness stand, to have to be in the same room as the defendant while that's happening, and to then possibly have to watch the defendant go free. like louise nicholas and so many others who have sought justice for sexual offences against themselves. that ms nicholas was not only able to survive her experience but went on to support other victims of rape & sexual violence is a tribute to her strength and courage.

i've never been called to be a witness in a trial of any kind. i think that this is a really good thing, because i can only imagine that it must be an extremely stressful thing to do. it is likely to mean that you have been witness to a crime, and it might be a quite horrific crime, so i'm thankful this hasn't happened to me. not only that, but i can't imagine that cross-examination is any fun at all, but then maybe i've watched too many legal dramas.

i've never even had to sit on a jury. i've been called for jury service many times, but my employers have always written to get me off it, except for one time. that one time, i went dutifully every morning, but was only called in to one trial. that trial was for some kind of sexual offence. however, i was challenged literally the second before i sat down, and breathed a huge sigh of relief. i can't imagine that experience would have been any fun either. which is not to say that i take jury service lightly - not at all. i consider it to be one of the highest civic duties, and am thankful for the many people who turn up and do their duty, some of them for pretty horrific cases that may take weeks. if i had to do it, i'd do it with good grace. i'm just thankful that i haven't yet had to.

in my career as an accountant, i could be sued for negligence or for giving the wrong advice. if i worked in auditing (which i did in the past but don't anymore), then i'd be at pretty high risk of being sued if i failed to pick up significant fraud or misstatement. professional liability insurance for accountants is extremely expensive, for auditors almost prohibitively so. this is why only the big firms do audits. because i'm an employee, my employer takes care of the professional liability insurance, and i can't be sued personally though my firm can. i am incredibly, extremely, deeply thankful that i have never been the cause of any legal action in my work as an accountant or auditor.

i'm grateful for the fact that i don't have to stress out about how i'm going to pay legal fees to defend myself. i'm really thankful that i've never had to go through the legal aid system, which i know something about having served on the legal aid review panel. i hate how the legal "aid" system is now actually a legal loan system, which is a barrier to justice in itself. if people know that they are going to be lumped with a huge loan, they are much less likely to seek justice. i also hate that you have to be extremely poor and have hardly any assets before you can even access legal aid.

on a related note, i hate that the justice system favours the rich, and a rich criminal will have access to much better legal representation than a poor person can ever hope for. this is one of the things that rankles me about the david bain case: the fact that he has received so much more access to justice than most nz'ers, because he was lucky enough to have a rich backer. it just highlights the inequality of our system. and i hate that sentences are harsher for poor people and people of colour.

if you have some spare time & money, you may wish to volunteer with victim support or rape prevention education. also useful is the prison fellowship. however, this looks like a christian-based organisation, so not sure how it works for followers of another or no religion. i'd also strongly recommend the howard league for penal reform, to strengthen the decent, humanitarian voices speaking out in the area of justice. i would have linked to the nz prisoners aid & rehabilitation society, except that this government killed an organisation of 51 years standing by cutting their funding.

for those of you who are having to interact with the justice system or the police, and are having to suffer in any way because of that, and for those who have been victims of crime, my thoughts and prayers are with you.


ScubaNurse said...

what a great post. I too am feeling greatful for not having been in the system

stargazer said...