Defence forum protesters win case against police

8:30 pm on 24 March 2017

A group of Wellington peace activists has been awarded more than $3000 costs from police after successfully defending charges of trespass and obstruction.

A protester stops a Defence Force member getting into the forum.

A protester stops a Defence Force member getting into the forum in November 2015. Photo: RNZ / Kate Gudsell

They were tried in Wellington District Court last month over a protest outside a Defence Industry Association Conference in 2015.

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 trial all 15 protestors had had their charges dismissed.

Breakdown of Costs

  • Legal fees $2938
  • Travel expenses for Valerie Morse $99
  • Photocopying expenses $331.68
  • Total expenses $3368.68

Many of the activists were charged with trespass, but they were protesting outside the TSB Arena on Queens Wharf, which is a public place.

Veteran Wellington protestor Valerie Morse told the court this week that police did not try to balance the activists' rights against those of conference attendees.

"I would say the police have responsibility to appreciate that [is] an area that is widely understood as public space. 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 bail conditions included not going within 500 metres of the TSB events centre and she believed that 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."

In a decision released yesterday, Judge Ian Mill found the police had done insufficient preparation in the investigation but said they had not acted in bad faith.

"The fact the evidence of several police officers was contradicted by what I saw in the video footage, which led to a discharge for some defendants, did not in my view indicate bad faith.

"As experience shows, eyewitness accounts are not always reliable, particularly in chaotic circumstances such as those that existed from time to time during the course of the protest."

Regarding the claim that police had taken little notice of the protestors' right to be at Queens Wharf, Judge Mill said no evidence was given about that and the issue was for the Independent Police Complaints Authority to consider.

The activists had also sought destruction of DNA samples taken from them by the police, but Judge Mill said he had no jurisdiction to order that.

Police said it was their role to uphold the law and ensure the safety and rights of people going about their business, while recognising the right to protest.