The Solicitor-General, Michael Heron (left) has manufactured an erroneous Evidential Test which the police then use to avoid prosecuting selected offenders. The test is ambiguous, misleading and based on an entirely false premise. It seems to completely confuse the police who then use it to undermine the role of the jury.
The police used this flawed test in their decision not to prosecute any of the Corrections staff who left Jai Davis to die from ‘internally concealed’ drugs in the Otago prison in 2011. As a result, the police never gave a jury the chance to hear the evidence – let alone decide whether any prison officers or nurses were guilty of negligence or manslaughter.
Because they’d been monitoring prisoners’ phone calls, management at Corrections believed Davis had drugs inside him when he was brought to prison on Friday, 11 February 2011; so they placed him in a special observation cell, one with a camera on 24/7. After two days, his condition deteriorated dramatically, but none of the numerous nurses or prison officers responsible for looking after him called a doctor or an ambulance. After a drawn out investigation which took three years, police announced they would not lay charges against anyone involved. Detective Inspector Steve McGregor (right) claimed the evidence did not ‘meet the threshold required to proceed’.
The evidential test for prosecution
So what is the so-called ‘threshold’ for prosecution? In criminal investigations, police use the Solicitor-General’s Prosecution Guidelines to assist them. But the guidelines are confused and contradictory. For instance, paragraph 5 states:
“The Test for Prosecution is met if the evidence which can be adduced in Court is sufficient to provide a reasonable prospect of conviction – the Evidential Test. What is required by the evidential test is that there is an objectively reasonable prospect of a conviction on the evidence. The apparent cogency and creditability of evidence is not a mathematical science, but rather a matter of judgment for the prosecutor.”
Talk about confusing. One sentence uses the word ‘objectively’ as if there was a scientific test which produces a factual, clear-cut result. The next sentence acknowledges that there is no such test and whether to lay charges is entirely subject to the prosecutor’s experience and personal assessment of the evidence.
The confusion in the Guidelines doesn’t stop there. Section 2.3 says:
“They reflect the aspirations and practices of prosecutors who adhere to the United Nations Guidelines on the Role of the Prosecutor (1990) and the International Association of Prosecutors Standards (IAPS) 1999.”
No they don’t. The IAP Standards state:
“In the institution of criminal proceedings, (prosecutors) will proceed only when a case is well-founded upon evidence reasonably believed to be reliable and admissible, and will not continue with a prosecution in the absence of such evidence”.
The focus here is on evidence that is ‘well-founded’ and ‘reliable’. The IAP Standards don’t even mention an ‘evidential test’, let alone the need for a reasonable prospect for conviction. Neither do the United Nations Guidelines. In regard to criminal proceedings, they state:
“Prosecutors shall not initiate or continue prosecution, or shall make every effort to stay proceedings, when an impartial investigation shows the charge to be unfounded.”
An unfounded charge is one in which the investigation establishes that no crime has been committed. This is an entirely different matter from the Solicitor General’s requirement that, where a crime has been committed, there should also be a reasonable prospect of conviction.
In other words the New Zealand Guidelines are confused and misleading on at least two separate points. In regard to criminal prosecutions, they are not based on the International Standards. And they suggest there is an objective evidential test for prosecution when clearly there is not. This means the Solicitor General’s requirement that a prosecution should only proceed if there is an objectively reasonable prospect of conviction is a judicial aberration – one that enables police to completely undercut the role of the jury.
That’s what happened in the Jai Davis case. Fortunately, once the police washed their hands of it, the coroner was able to take a look at the evidence. The inquest in November 2014, held by David Crerar (right), turned out to be the longest and most intensive hearing into the death of a prisoner ever conducted in New Zealand. It uncovered a wealth of well-founded and reliable evidence much of which has been documented in the media. In essence, the coroner heard that at least ten officers, six nurses and three prison managers all believed Davis was internally concealing drugs – but not one of them called the prison doctor or called an ambulance.
The evidence was so compelling that at the end of the inquest, police announced they would reconsider whether to prosecute. Presumably the potential charges are ‘failing to provide the necessaries of life’, ‘gross neglect of duties’ and possibly ‘manslaughter’.
The Police need to do their job and prosecute those involved. If they don’t – because they might not get a conviction – they let the perpetrators go free without even allowing a jury to look at the evidence. In effect, the police appoint themselves as judge and jury. That’s not how the system is supposed to work. The role of the police is to present well-founded, reliable evidence that a crime has been committed. It’s up to the jury to decide whether that evidence is sufficient for a conviction to be reached beyond reasonable doubt.
Police double standard
It’s not just the Solicitor-General’s Guidelines that are problematic. The police also have a well-established double standard when it comes to prosecuting crimes of negligence. They frequently charge offenders in the community for negligence or failing to provide the necessaries of life to vulnerable family members – but never charge anyone at Corrections when a vulnerable prisoner dies. The reality is that Jai Davis is just another dead prisoner in a long line of prisoners where a jury never got to hear the evidence.
That’s not justice. That’s corruption – and it’s been going on for years. One could even argue that by consistently refusing to prosecute and hold prison staff to account, this amounts to a conspiracy to pervert the course of justice by agencies of the State – namely the Solicitor-General, the Police and Corrections. Perverting the course of justice carries a possible penalty of seven years in prison. But I can’t see anyone being prosecuted for that. It wouldn’t meet the evidential test, would it? Of course not.
For a more detailed critique of the evidential test, see this letter to the IPCA about the police failure to prosecute anyone over the death of Jai Davis.
For a more detailed analysis of police double standards, see this letter to the IPCA comparing police prosecutions in the community with those against prison staff.