27 Mar 2009

Self-defence laws to be investigated

7:10 am on 27 March 2009

Justice Minister Simon Power has asked officials to investigate laws surrounding self-defence after charges against a South Auckland liquor store owner were thrown out.

Virender Singh, 40, claimed he was using self-defence when he used a hockey stick during a violent brawl in September last year, during an attempted robbery of his store in Otara. Four people were hospitalised following the incident.

On Wednesday, two Justices of the Peace dismissed two charges against Mr Singh of injuring with intent to injure following a preliminary hearing. The JPs said that, due to contradictory statements from witnesses, there was not enough evidence to prove the case against Mr Singh.

In Parliament on Thursday, Mr Power said he recognises there is considerable public anxiety over whether Mr Singh should have been charged in the first place.

Mr Power said he has asked officials for advice on how Section 48 of the Crimes Act applies to the discretion of police to press charges, and how the charges are treated by the courts.

The section says people are justified in using force to defend themselves or others if the force is reasonable in the circumstances. It reads: "Every one is justified in using, in the defence of himself or another, such force as, in the circumstances as he believes them to be, it is reasonable to use."

Mr Singh said the laws need to change, in the face of rising crime. He said he used a hockey stick only to defend himself and those around him during the incident.

The store owner is seeking an apology from police. He said he was not only a robbery victim, but a victim of a police prosecution which should not have gone ahead.

Mixed reaction to decision

Otara dairy owner Hemant Kumar was robbed earlier this month of milk, nappies and a packet of biscuits.

Mr Kumar said Mr Singh should never have been charged because sometimes store owners do not have enough time to wait for the police and need to protect themselves.

However, chief executive of the Retailers' Association John Albertson said he would be worried if retailers carried weapons, because it could make any violence against them worse. Mr Albertson said preventative measures such as clear windows and good lighting are a better solution.

A defence lawyer said police were right to bring the charges. New Zealand Law Society Criminal Law Committee convenor Jonathan Krebs says the decision is not a precedent and the Justices of the Peace were not condoning the violence.

Case thrown out

The presiding Justices of the Peace said on Wednesday that, due to contradictory statements from witnesses, there was not enough evidence to prove the case against Mr Singh.

There was no prima facie case to answer because of conflicts in evidence presented by the Crown and cross-examined by Mr Singh's lawyer, Greg King. He told the hearing that it could not be shown that his client injured either of the complainants, and he has always denied doing so.

Mr King said a group hatched a plan to rob Mr Singh's store and the complainants do not say that Mr Singh struck them.

The Crown argued Mr Singh acted in retribution and force, and self-defence must be reasonable.

But Mr King said there was no clearer case of self-defence. He said Mr Singh was stabbed during the attack in front of his young daughter and wife, his nephew suffered a cut to his hand, and a neighbouring store owner was hit in the face with a piece of wood.

Mr Singh said he still does not know why he was charged, but is delighted with the decision and it has restored his faith in the justice system.