Collins’ announcement explaining why she had sought the review was candid, even sharp, but in the circumstances reasonable. The fact that she has had Binnie’s report since September had raised expectations that the matter would be put before the Cabinet and a decision announced before Christmas. It has also become well known, and has not been denied, that the report is favourable to Bain. The reasons for the delay needed to be explained and Collins did so in a characteristically forthright style.
It is worth noting that Collins did not seek publicity. It was in response to media inquiries that her statement was released as to why she sought a peer review. The announcement of Fisher was not made public, but inevitably leaked out.
Binnie’s report, she said, appeared to contain “assumptions based on incorrect facts, . . . showed a misunderstanding of New Zealand law . . . and lacked a robustness of reasoning used to justify its conclusions”. Binnie, perhaps unused from his lengthy term on Canada’s highest court to such direct comment, was stung by Collins’ remarks into responding. It was an unwise move.
By convention, judges never comment on their decisions once they are delivered. The decisions are taken to contain all the facts and reasoning required to be able to speak for themselves. Binnie is no longer a judge, of course, but in this procedure he is acting as one. Once he had delivered his report to Collins in September the function for which he was hired was over and he should have remained aloof from anything that ensued, whatever it was. It is unseemly and undignified of him to get into the mud and the dust of the political arena in the way he has done.
I think his response was a massive mistake. If he has confidence in his report, he should let that speak for itself.
If nothing else, it raises misgivings about his judgment. Fourteen long paragraphs in response to a terse couple of sentences from the minister looks weirdly disproportionate. In addition, questionable statements Binnie makes, particularly concerning the alleged views of the Privy Council on Bain’s guilt or innocence, look faulty enough to suggest that Collins’ doubts about the report are well-founded.
Again, I agree.
Collins said yesterday she was considering releasing the report along with the review of it this week. She says that both should be released together. While that would be ideal, she should go ahead and release Binnie’s report (both the original and the two subsequent versions that Binnie has given her unsolicited) whether the review is ready or not. The tumult is not going to die down, and rumour and surmise will fill the vacuum if she delays.
I understand there is a reasonable chance both the Binnie report/s and the Fisher report will be released tomorrow.
Also of note is this exchange in question time:
CHARLES CHAUVEL (Labour) to the Minister of Justice: What are the specific “assumptions” based on “incorrect facts” demonstrating some “misunderstanding of New Zealand law” that she alleges are contained in the report of Justice Binnie concerning the application by Mr Bain for compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment?
Hon JUDITH COLLINS (Minister of Justice) : I stated in my media release that “My concerns are broadly that the report appeared to contain assumptions based on incorrect facts, and showed a misunderstanding of New Zealand law.” Prior to giving examples, I need to give just a little bit of context to this. I can advise the House that an independent peer review of the first Binnie advice is being done by the Hon Robert Fisher QC, and I am considering the public request made by Mr Bain’s supporters to release both these reports—or advice to me—before Cabinet has made its decision. One of the things I am considering is whether or not it is going to be in Mr Bain’s interests or in the interests of justice to do so. But in relation to the examples sought, there are many. I will give the House two of those. The first is relying on incorrect understanding of what has been given in evidence. In this case, Justice Binnie asserts that a named scientist testified at the first trial that he had chemically enhanced the prints and later sought to resile from this. The reference to chemical enhancement was an error on a label attached to a fingerprint, and this was explained as such by the named scientist at the retrial. A second example is in relation to assumptions as to the correctness of submissions on the law. Justice Binnie appears to have assumed to be correct Mr Karam’s submission that the adverse inferences should be drawn against the Crown case on the basis of evidence that is no longer available. This is incompatible with the onus of proof being on Mr Bain in this particular case, because this is, in fact, a request for Cabinet to use its discretion, and that is very clearly wrong.
Again, the reports will be interesting.