The Daily News
October 18, 1996
Double injustice is something our system can well do without
Human frailties being what they are, any system devised by people whose
judgments are called into play inevitably fails occasionally. Perfection,
unfortunately, is but an unattainable vision. We strive for it, but despite
all the will in the world and the best minds in any situation, some people
are wronged along the way.
Our justice system is one example. No one, least of all practitioners within
it, would suggest it is perfect. But on the positive side, it is something of
which we can all be proud. It works in the vast majority of cases. There are
systems around the world that are at the extremities of harshness in that
fundamental rights do not form any part of their statutes -- if indeed they
have any at all -- through to others that have a pretence of our kind of
fairness but which fall short of adequate comparison in several key respects.
Perceived injustices in New
Zealand often are nothing more than the
protestations of those found to have done wrong -- rightly in the minds of
everyone but themselves.
Guilty people are sometimes found not to be. That is just the price we pay
for the premise by which Crown actions at least are brought. Those facing
action are innocent until proven guilty; the onus of proof in these cases
rests fairly and squarely on the Crown. In the words of that 18th century
British judge, Sir William Blackstone, it is better that 10 guilty persons
escape than one innocent suffer.
Unfortunately, one man is suffering. Nick Wills, a 22-year-old Waikato University student, is not a rapist. A
woman claimed he was in August last year. He was sacked as deputy warden of
the university hostel. The woman was subsequently convicted of making a false
statement to the police. Mr Wills was cleared of charges of rape and
threatening to kill, but his name is in public arena now as it was back then.
The woman's name was suppressed.
He has received $30,000 from police and his former employer, the Bryant Hall
Trust Board. Just on $27,000 has gone in legal fees. That's $3000
compensation for a gross injustice. Sex cases, rape included, have a stigma
associated with them and this will last a long time in Nick Wills' instance.
In a double injustice, the same kind odium associated with the woman who made
a completely false statement is absent.
Of course there are good reasons why names in all kinds of court cases should
be suppressed -- victims in particular but accused too. The reason is obvious
for rape victims. But the woman in this case was not the victim; the man
falsely accused was. Police tread a tightrope in most sex cases. Usually it
revolves around just two people, one word against the other. The police have
been made to learn on this occasion. Whether the broader issues of justice
versus injustice have been learned too is doubtful.