31 Oct 2008

Five facing further charges over police raids

5:30 pm on 31 October 2008

More serious charges are to be laid against five of the people already due to stand trial after the high-profile police raids last year.

Earlier in October, 17 people were committed to stand trial on various charges of illegally possessing firearms, ammunition or explosives.

The Crown says Tame Iti, Tuhoi Lambert, Emily Bailey, Urs Signer and Whiri Kemara have now been charged with participation in a criminal group, which carries a sentence of up to five years' imprisonment.

A spokesperson for lawyers representing those arrested says the new charges are an unusual and unprecedented step.

Moana Jackson, told Nine to Noon on Friday the move is an abuse of legal process and a threat to democratic protest rights.

Mr Jackson says it is clear that the Crown is trying to associate the negativity of gangs with the accused, and he would not be surprised if further charges were laid in a few months.

One of the groups supporting those arrested, the Justice Now Collective, says the move is a desperate attempt by the Crown to save face after its failure to bring charges under the Terrorism Suppression Act.

However, Crown prosecutor Ross Burns said it was not a police decision to file the new charges and the move was made by his office alone.

Prime Minister Helen Clark says the Government had no involvement with plans to lay fresh charges over the raids, nor was any notice of the Crown's decision given to the Attorney-General Michael Cullen or Police Minister Annette King.

Warren Brookbanks, of the University of Auckland Law Faculty, says the new charge of participating in a criminal group, introduced in 1998, is rarely used.

"There is no limitation period in respect of serious charges of this nature. The Crown are fully within their rights to delay in bringing the charges and, having reviewed all the evidence, they must be satisfied that evidence is sufficient," he said.