The protection racket

ImageWhen the jury retired we took a straw vote. Eleven jurors said "guilty" while I said "not guilty". I was Chairperson. I knew I had to convince everyone else to change their mind, and they were not particularly interested. They just wanted to go home.



The case was not complicated. Two Maori had attempted to set up a brothel in Karangahape Road. They had employed a cousin, or some other relative, as a prostitute. Clearly they knew very little about business and their adventure was doomed to financial collapse.The High Court was filled with police in very smart carefully pressed uniforms. They were beaming at the prospect of a successful prosecution. Their expensive lawyers presented a watertight array of evidence. It seemed to be an open and shut case.My problem was that I knew, as everyone knew, that in K' Road there were a number of very expensive, well run, well organised brothels. Why were we being asked to pass judgement on the only competitor on the strip. Clearly this was a police protection racket. The police were acting on behalf of Hastie and others to close down any opposition.
It is also in the nature of human affairs that if you want to get promoted then you need successful prosecutions. Taking on the big boys was risky as they would employ the best lawyers in town. Taking on the small fry who could not afford a lawyer, and had barely a clue about the court process was a knock-over.

However to pass a guilty judgement was to give credibility to the police protection racket.

I argued my case. One by one the jury members changed their minds until we had a unanimous verdict.

We returned to the courtroom. "Your honour, we have reached a unanimous verdict." The police beamed. Promotion was on the way, and they would be handsomely rewarded by Hastie for their efforts. The accused knew, in the way that the disadvantaged do, that they were about to be done. The disadvantaged always are.

"Your honour. Not guilty."

The accused could not believe it. The police could not believe it. The lawyers could not believe it. I have often wondered if I detected a slight smile on the judge's face.

There is no process by which a jury can direct that the police should have been put on trial, and so there the matter rested. Justice had been done.

The wonderful thing about a jury trial is that twelve ordinary citizens can listen to all the evidence and then ponder what it really means. They can see beyond the legal arguments to something which is perfectly obvious.

The only worry is that most ordinary citizens need someone to help them to see beyond the quick and easy conclusion.