by Guy Hatchard
A Turning Point in Our Nation: The sentencing of Billy TK Jnr and Vinny Eastwood to Jail
An Urgent Call to Voice our Concerns and Offer Support
Yesterday I was interviewed on a US radio channel jointly with Billy Te Kahika Jnr. and Vinny Eastwood. I realised I have been remiss. I have not publicly discussed their case here in New Zealand whose outcome will materially affect our future rights and treatment under the law. I want to rectify that now.
Mr Te Kahika, a pastor and former serving soldier and policeman, and Mr Eastwood, a social commentator and radio personality, have been sentenced to four months and three months jail time respectively for participating in a peaceful non-violent protest against level 4 lockdowns. Their case comes up for appeal against sentencing on the morning of Monday 31st July. They have both been subject to persistent unfavourable comment in mainstream media unreasonably impugning their character and intentions.
It is very hard not to think that they may have both been sentenced to jail in order to make an example of them and send a message to the whole nation. If this was the case, it will have been the hallmark of a repressive regime.
The wheels of justice turn slowly for a reason, it enables the judicial system to place offences in the context of subsequent events. It has been two years since the apparent offence. Since that time it has become known that lockdowns damaged our economy and disadvantaged the education of youth. They signalled the beginning of an era of high youth crime rates, too high in fact for the police and courts to contain or mitigate.It is also apparent that lockdowns and other pandemic policies ultimately proved ineffective at reducing the level of casualties and deaths. For example this article discusses that both Sweden who didn’t lock down and Israel who did had similar long term health outcomes.Mr Te Kahika and Eastwood are appealing their sentence. They note that no other persons have been handed jail time for offences of this type committed in New Zealand.
In contrast to their treatment, a great many people participating in protests during the pandemic have been arrested and released without charge, conviction, or punishment. This was just.
There are very important points of law at stake here that affect our rights as New Zealanders.
The law is supposed to be fair. Laws should be applied equally, without prejudice or inequality. In the English legal system, from which our laws are originally derived, the role of the judiciary was considered to include the defence of fairness. In the early 1970s I heard Lord Justice Denning, Master of the Rolls, enunciate this concept at Birkbeck College in London. His words made a great impression on me. He said the judicial system “should uphold what right-thinking men know to be fair between man and man, and in these days between man and the state”.
He emphasised the need for the courts to think rightly and fairly in passing judgement. He thought the judiciary should play a role in curbing any excesses of the State. He recognised that a government, even though it is democratically elected at some point in time, must not lose sight of the rights of its individual members. If it did, it is right and proper for the courts to issue judgements reflecting a fair application of universal principles of justice.
In New Zealand we have a principle of the supremacy of Parliament to make laws, but we also have a Bill of Rights. Provisions 13 to 18 of the Bill of Rights grant freedom of thought, conscience and religion.
They also grant freedom of expression, peaceful assembly, association, and movement. Provision 6 states:“Wherever an enactment can be given a meaning that is consistent with the rights and freedoms contained in this Bill of Rights, that meaning shall be preferred to any other meaning.”
The concepts of law and government in ancient Greece were thought to be derived from natural laws. In this philosophy of justice, natural laws such as the laws of physics etc. were seen to be equally applied to all but also applied in such a way that everyone was nourished by them. In the affairs of state it is the role of leaders to balance the social interest and the individual interest. Democracy is supposed to offer an opportunity for all to contribute and participate, it is not and never has been understood as a system of repressive control.
In retrospect, the measures taken during the pandemic including lockdowns may have been well intentioned, but their net outcomes were extremely unbalanced. A fact that was admitted by the Prime Minister at the time who spoke of the intention to create a two-tiered society. It is even more clear now that this was a mistake, it was divisive, ultimately ineffective, and damaging. From this point of view with the wisdom of hindsight, Mr Eastwood and Mr. Te Kahika can be legitimately understood to be justly seeking to protect the integrity of our nation rather than undermining it. They sought to support our democratic society.
Last week we witnessed with horror the murder of individuals and the shooting of policemen in central Auckland. We now know that the perpetrator was under home detention for very violent offences committed against his whanau. During this detention he was also allowed the freedom to attend work. Contrast this with the current jail sentences against Mr Eastwood and Mr Te Kahika for minor actions that do not involve any violence.
We also heard that our Justice Minister Kiri Allan had been arrested for drunk driving and failing to follow the instructions of a police officer after an accident. She fled the scene of the accident. This provokes us to recognise that the elected government can be fallible. When it is, it is the role of the courts to inject balance into the public debate.
I sincerely hope that Monday’s hearing of appeal finds in favour of the applicants. I believe justice served in this case could be a turning point in our nation and a way of healing the divisions that have grown up during the turbulent and uncertain years of the pandemic. I believe that an appropriate decision by the court on Monday could go some way towards restoring the effect of the provisions of our Bill of Rights which were bypassed to a considerable, and I believe unreasonable extent during the pandemic.
It is a great misfortune of the forthcoming election that none of our currently elected political parties have talked about the need to entrench the Bill of Rights as a constitutional principle. Doing so would ensure balance between the rights of the individual and the power of the State. It would protect the people from ill-considered overreach by the government.
I am asking for people to voice their support for Mr Eastwood and Mr Te Kahika. It is surprising how little the media has published the concerns we raise here, rather choosing to denigrate the defendants, despite the fact that the judgements in this case affect everyone’s rights in NZ for the future. They are both family men of hitherto good behaviour who would suffer greatly if jailed. The emotional and material cost of their defence has been substantial. In particular, Mr. Te Kahika has personally spent $97,000 on legal costs so far (an amount beyond his modest means) and needs more financial support to continue his defence and pay outstanding bills. I believe that support for the defendants is in every New Zealander’s interest. To make arrangements to contact and support the defendants:
Email of Billy Te Kahika Jnr. email@example.com
E-mail of Vincent Eastwood: firstname.lastname@example.org
They are ready to provide verification of their costs and expenses.