17 October 2013
In the 1980s the Wellington retailer Alan Martin of L.V. Martin & Son became a cult figure for his idiosyncratic television advertisements where he proclaimed, “it’s the putting right that counts”. The slogan became part of the national lexicon and a byword for after sales service.
In 1995 when the United Party was formed cartoonist Tom Scott lampooned the hurried circumstances of the party’s launch with the line,” it’s the getting it about right that counts”.
I thought of that line again last week when Mark Lundy was released on bail pending a new trial for the murder of his wife and daughter. His case follows in the footsteps of David Bain, Arthur Alan Thomas and a few others over the last 40 years. The common thread has been that each of the original convictions was found to be unsafe in some way or other. To date, in each case, subsequent processes have led to either their acquittal or the quashing of the original convictions. It remains to be seen whether Mark Lundy will join that list.
In each case, the “getting it about right” approach to justice has been the problem. Too often, the innocent till proven guilty maxim that supposedly underpins our justice system has given way to the lesser and far more unreliable “they probably did it” approach. While that fits well with our national pragmatism and is probably likely to be right more often than not, it is still a fundamentally haphazard and far too casual way to dispense justice, especially in serious cases.
Unfortunately, and probably more worrying, that approach also influences the ways crimes and other misdemeanours are now investigated by the Police and others. Instead of painstakingly and impartially investigating all aspects of a case from the ground up, New Zealand’s approach is increasingly focused on finding someone responsible, or more likely than not to be responsible. That is based on a sifting sand approach of shaking the issue to see who can be eliminated, and then building a case, often no more than strongly circumstantial, around them in such a way to convince a Court of guilt. The pursuit of truth and justice are often the first casualties. Finding someone on whom the crime can be “pinned” is a far more immediate focus and satisfies the public that the investigators have done their job properly.
But while that remains our focus and while those who gather the evidence remain responsible for prosecuting the cases, situations like the Lundy case and others will continue to occur. That may satisfy the public pressure for crimes to be solved, but the pursuit of justice will be the casualty. Getting it “about right” in these circumstances definitely does not count!