Guest Post: Why were Moko’s killers’ charges reduced to manslaughter?

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 Why were Moko’s killers’ charges reduced to manslaughter?

It is now almost a month since it became publicly known that the people who stomped and bashed and strangled little Moko Rangitoheriri to death over a two week period had had their murder charges reduced to manslaughter, to which they no doubt very gratefully pleaded guilty. Despite commendable media scrutiny, the public are still none the wiser as to  how this seemingly inexplicable decision came to be made.

And inexplicable it is, to a number of senior  criminal defence barristers I have consulted. The statement of facts has now been leaked. I am told it is a dreadful tale of lengthy abuse and multiple life threatening injuries, any one of which could have caused Moko’s death.  There is absolutely no doubt that all  of those injuries were inflicted by Tania Shailer and/or her boyfriend David Haerewa. Unlike the Kahui twins’ debacle, no-one else is in the frame.

One early story quoted “a family member” having been told by the Crown Solicitor in charge of the prosecution that because Moko did not die immediately, but later in hospital, a murder charge could not be pursued. The Crown Solicitor emphatically denies that any such conversation took place, and confirms that any such downgrading of murder charges  to the lesser charge of manslaughter must be approved by the Solicitor General, and that is what happened in this case. In other words, the buck stops with the person effectively in charge of all Crown prosecutions, the Solicitor General Una Jagose. But neither she nor anyone from her office are talking.

I am aware of many media enquiries being made seeking an explanation from Ms Jagose. Apparently more than one reporter now cannot speak to anyone  at the Solicitor General’s office, let alone the woman herself. When I called seeking an e-mail address for her I was grilled as to who I was, and why I wanted it.  In my view this is outrageous – it should not matter if I was the barrister from Auckland that I am, or a concerned truck driver from Timaru.

The Solicitor General is a public official, not the Queen. She is appointed to fill the highest non political legal office in the land.  It is ultimately she who provides legal advice to  the government, and oversees all serious criminal prosecutions. It is to her we entrust the prosecution of the evil persons among us who commit heinous crimes, rather than take the law into our own hands. She ought to be accountable to us,  the people on whose behalf she acts.

She is not a Judge. It is an important constitutional convention that Judges occupy an exalted status above the rest of us – both barristers from Auckland and truck drivers from Timaru. No-one writing to a Judge  seeking an explanation for a sentence will get a reply. If the writer of such a letter was a lawyer, he would probably have a complaint laid against him with the Law Society.

But there is a very important difference between the decisions of  Judge and the decisions of a Solicitor General.  Judges issue sentencing notes which explain in sometimes tedious detail how a particular sentence was arrived at – an addition for this aggravating factor,  a deduction for that supposedly mitigating factor. Here we have absolutely nothing from the Solicitor General – no explanation, not even a statement.

It is not as if this explanation will come on 27 June, the day Shailer and Haerewa receive their now unavoidably inadequate sentence. The Judge will simply see the summary of facts, and be told that the Crown has accepted a plea of guilty to manslaughter. Neither he nor any other Judge has had any involvement  with the plea bargain which has preceded the fait accompli he will be presented with. It is very unlikely he will even comment on it.

It is simply not right for the Solicitor General to maintain an imperious silence in her office in Wellington. Politicians explain the reasons for their support of  or opposition to laws being passed in parliament. Judges explain the reasons for their decisions in open court for all to hear, and in their sentencing notes. If there is  a reason or reasons  for this seemingly inexplicable decision then let’s hear it.  The people ought not to be treated with such disdain. They have a right to know.

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