21 Mar 2017

Peace activists seek costs after charges dismissed

9:15 pm on 21 March 2017

A group of peace activists who successfully defended charges of trespass and obstruction have asked for the court to grant them costs against police.

Defence industry forum.

Protesters clashed with police outside a defence industry conference in Wellington. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

Initially, 16 people were tried in the Wellington District Court last month over a protest outside a Defence Industry Association Conference in 2015.

However, many of the charges were dropped on the second day of the trial when discrepancies showed up between evidence from police witnesses and what was seen in videos from the scene.

By the end of the week all 16 had had their charges dismissed.

Today, veteran protester Valerie Morse told Judge Ian Mill the activists had taken advice on the status of the land before taking action and police should have done the same.

"They need to think a little bit more about ... their powers in respect of public and private spaces. They're not the same.

"The police didn't adequately consider our right to be there and that continued to be a feature of this prosecution all the way through."

Ms Morse said those policing the protest did not try to balance the rights of the protesters against those of the people attending conference.

She said her bail conditions included not going within 500m of the TSB events centre and she believed this was done to prevent her and the other activists from exercising their democratic right to protest.

"Those things, I think, paint a picture [that] at least indicates a bit of bad faith on the part of the police - a desire to do other than uphold the law."

Ms Morse said her group had managed to raised $15,000 to defend the charges and she asked Judge Mill to take "a liberal reading of the legislation" and be generous in compensating their costs.

Protesters don't meet legal threshold for costs - Crown lawyer

However, Crown lawyer Catherine Gisler, who acted for the police during the trial, said she had not been involved in the prosecution until shortly before the trial and was not aware until it began that the protest had taken place on public land.

"We [then] looked closely at the evidence placed before the court and decided to offer no further evidence against those charged with trespass, leading to those charges being dropped.

She said police did the best they could with the resources they had available to them.

"All the evidence of delegates was consistent. They were met with a highly volatile scene and the number one priority of the police was to give them safe entry into the conference.

"It wasn't to curtail the protesters' right to protest. It was simply to ensure the safety of members of the public.

Once all the factors were weighed up the protesters did not meet the legal threshold for an award of costs, Ms Gisler said.

Judge Ian Mill reserved his decision.