The Court of Appeal has dismissed the Urewera four’s appeal against their convictions and sentences.
In today’s decision, Justices Mark O’Regan, Ellen France and Terence Arnold have agreed with High Court Justice Rodney Hansen’s earlier ruling and labelled it a "generous one".
Lawyers for Urs Signer, Emily Bailey, veteran activist Tame Iti and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara took the appeal in August, three months after Justice Hansen’s ruling.
At the time, Signer and Bailey received a sentence of nine months' home detention on firearms possession charges while Iti and Kemara were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison on the same charges.
In today’s ruling Justices O’Regan, France and Arnold agreed with Justice Hansen’s reasoning in the following passage:
“The question of whether the four of you participated in a criminal group, which had as its objective the commission of serious crimes of violence, is quite distinct from the issue of why you acquired the firearms and deployed them at the camps.
"Your intention in that latter sense is highly relevant to an assessment of your culpability and there is sufficient evidence on that issue to satisfy me to the standard of beyond reasonable doubt.”
They also suggested Justice Hansen’s approach had been “generous”.
“Accordingly, we consider it was open to the judge to reach the factual findings he did. Once that point is accepted, there can be no real argument that the sentences imposed were within range.
"Indeed, there is force in the Crown submission that in giving credit for the appellants’ altruistic motivation, the approach taken was generous.”
The Court of Appeal also disagreed with claims pre-trial publicity would have led to an unfair trial. The ruling emphasised the fact there was a "significant lapse in time" between the bulk of the publicity in question and the trial.
The judges highlighted the application by the appellants for a trial by jury, saying it indicated they had no issue with the effect of pre-trial publicity.
During the two-day appeal, Iti’s lawyer Russell Fairbrother said Justice Hansen should have looked at the group’s actions in their cultural context, not through a "central Auckland perspective”.
He said there would be little cause for concern if someone was seen in Ruatoki carrying a gun. However, there would be legitimate concern if someone was carrying it up Auckland’s Queen St.
Mr Fairbrother argued the jury, before retiring to consider a verdict, should have told that to assess the lawfulness, they had to “look at the environment; the fact the exercises were organised; uninvolved members of the public were excluded; there was an element of discipline; there was no evidence of others being upset by it”.
But the Court of Appeal disagreed. The ruling noted Justice Hansen’s directions to the jury were broad enough to encompass the concept of a different world.
It was five years ago this month the eastern Bay of Plenty township of Ruatoki became the talk of the country, following the Urewera terrorism raids
On the morning of October 15, 2007, and after a year of police surveillance, a series of raids were carried out in the township.
More than 300 police officers, including armed offenders’ squad members and anti-terrorism squads were involved in the operation. As a result, 17 people, including Urs Signer, Emily Bailey, veteran activist Tame Iti, and Te Rangikaiwhiria Kemara were arrested.
Police had claimed Iti was involved in running military-style training camps in the Urewera Ranges and was planning a guerrilla war to establish an independent state on traditional Tūhoe land. Four guns and 230 rounds of ammunition were seized in the raids.
Evidence gathered during the raids was consequently passed on to then-Solicitor General David Collins, but on November 8, 2007, Mr Collins refused to prosecute under the Terrorism Suppression Act, saying there was insufficient evidence.
In September 2011, the Supreme Court ruled certain evidence inadmissible, forcing the Crown to drop the charges for all but Signer, Bailey, Iti and Kemara.
The Supreme Court had ruled police were unable to use evidence from surveillance cameras they had installed.
Signer, Bailey, Iti and Kemara all faced trial in the Auckland High Court in February this year, on charges of firearm possession and participating in a criminal group. All four were found guilty on the firearms charges, while the jury was unable to agree on the criminal group charge.
In May 2012, Signer and Bailey received a sentence of nine months home detention while Iti and Kemara were each sentenced to two and a half years in prison.
In late August lawyers for all four went to the Court of Appeal in an attempt to have the convictions and sentenced overturned.
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