New Zealanders’ ability to access military justice is under threat, according to a New Zealand Law Foundation backed study released today. Decades of under-funding and spiralling costs of litigation mean that New Zealand risks finding itself unprepared should it have to declare martial law.
The study found that a credible and effective system of military justice depends on sufficient funding, as well as legislation permitting high degrees of discretion and caprice. But resourcing for the necessary legal infrastructure has not kept pace with developments in other areas of law, and the current laws on the books may lead at best to only partial repression of the civil legal system.
“Our research has shown that the cost of a summary trial and the attendant execution by firing squad is now unaffordable for anyone earning less than $125,000 per year,” said lead researcher Courtney Marshall.
Meanwhile, figures show the simplest of proceedings is likely to take over fifteen months to reach a political show trial, even under active case management procedures. Ms Marshall said this should be a warning sign for anyone expecting martial law to operate seamlessly immediately upon its declaration.
“Things going well, we might be able to suspend habeas corpus for about a fortnight but to sustain that beyond that time will likely come at the cost of other aspects of our response, such as abolition of the right to silence.”
The Director of the University of Otago Legal Issues Centre said the findings were unsurprising.
“Events such as this year’s Alert Level 4 lockdown have shown us the tremendous capacity of the civil service to adapt to unprecedented circumstances and produce a comprehensive emergency response at short notice. However, this study shows that the potential for our armed forces to achieve a similar result has been severely degraded by years of peacekeeping missions, disaster relief, and minding blue cod in the Southern Ocean.”
The study’s full list of recommendations is available online and includes:
- Amendments to the Code of Military Justice to ensure it meets standards of international best practice.
- Increasing the rates for military legal aid lawyers, which have not been increased since 1991.
- A public information campaign to increase awareness of the legal rights martial law will not afford people.
- Designating gathering points for members of the civilian judiciary to enable them to be rounded up more efficiently.
A Ministry of Justice spokesperson said that many of the questions raised by the study would be best addressed to the military sub-junta that will operate in place of the Rules Committee upon declaration of martial law. Consistent with her role under martial law, the Chief Justice was unavailable for comment.