In Honour of Sir Peter Williams QC – A Personal Note of Thanks

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Sir Peter Williams, Queen's Counsel, when interviewed by Selwyn Manning in October 2012.
Sir Peter Williams, Queen's Counsel, when interviewed by Selwyn Manning in October 2012.
Sir Peter Williams, Queen’s Counsel, when interviewed by Selwyn Manning in October 2012.

In Remembrance, by Selwyn Manning.
TV Interview: Selwyn Manning IVs Sir Peter Williams

It was back in the mid 1990s when I first met Sir Peter Williams QC. There had been a number of young people who had died or had committed suicide while in custody in New Zealand police stations and prison cells. I was reporting on the issue and he was prepared to discuss solutions.

We met at a cafe on Ponsonby Road in Auckland. Sir Peter was fully aware of each case I raised, and was able to provide a complete history of each person whose life had ended while in lock-up.

We narrowed in on how a 15 year old boy had recently taken his own life while in the custody of the police. There were other cases, where hardened gang members had taken their own lives while in seclusion.

Sir Peter spoke of how when people are taken from their world and placed inside a sterile and hostile environment, they can quickly regress to a state of emotional vulnerability, equal to what you would expect from a person many years younger. It was commonplace, he said, even for hardened gangsters to unravel and become suicidal once they found themselves alone and away from the security of their gang. He pressed on with how police and prison officers must be vigilant to recognise when a person is at risk.

He spoke of the human being, the person, of people, then spoke of their basic human rights, of their right to dignity, of their right to be protected while in custody, even protected from themselves. He was aware how many of these people had committed serious crimes. Had chosen violence over reason. And he was aware how some of them were innocent, even after being found guilty.

As the spokesperson for the Howard League for Penal Reform, Sir Peter was able to compel us all to consider alternative ways to rehabilitate prisoners. He was not soft on crime, he seemed to me to be firm and committed to his resolve that there ought to be consequence for those who were guilty.

But he was able to speak with experience and authority of how locking people up, without hope nor opportunity, without rehabilitative programmes designed to help a person achieve their positive potential, then, we, as a society were failing not only the prisoner, but also ourselves.

His views were often controversial. The 1990s and 2000s saw society hardening its attitude toward criminals and crime. It was understandable. It seemed a trend had set in where violence was destroying the lives of the innocent more often, with more severity, it appeared so often the perpetrators were without remorse nor regard for a personal responsibility, nor a will to change.

Politically, our politicians too reflected this move toward zero-tolerance. Sentences became longer, talk of rehabilitation was an anathema, and public observances of prison conditions were of little consequence nor interest. Again it was understandable.

However Sir Peter’s work continued. And it is my view, that any gains that have been made, where we as a country have developed conditions and programmes that assist those imprisoned to make something good of themselves, and where people have exited their incarceration in better shape and less of a risk than when they entered it, in all these cases we as a country owe our thanks to Sir Peter Williams.

And it is also clear, Sir Peter’s work continues on. The task of penal reform has not concluded. His good reputation and his sound values compel us all to now walk his walk.

My last interview with Sir Peter.

It was in 2012, for Triangle TV/Stratos TV. Information was emerging that the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) had placed a permanent resident (Kim Dotcom) under surveillance, apparently breaching its legal parameters. There was also the question of whether a senior police officer had perjured himself in court over the matter.

I sought Sir Peter’s expert view. Legally he remained sharp as a tack. Despite illness, Sir Peter was keen to talk about the issue. Not because he wanted the attention, but because he had something to contribute, something to to say to help us understand the issue of huge public interest that was unravelling before us.

I have republished the interview here so you can all see the man dissecting that complex and fluid case. And I must add, that a week or two after the interview, Sir Peter sent me a copy of his book, inside it was a letter.

In it he thanked me for my work and for taking the time to interview him. He spoke of other things that were touching. And I thought, here was a man of huge public standing, who was a household name well before a time when my preoccupation was whether to go to school or wagg. But he treated me, not as an interviewer, nor as a lousy journalist, but as a human being, someone worth talking to and thanking.

And I thought, what a wonderful man.

Sir Peter QC, Haere ki te wa kainga, Haere ki te kainga tuturu, O to tatou Matua i Te Rangi, Haere, haere, haere.

Our sympathies to Lady Heeni and family.

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IN REMEMBRANCE: Triangle TV Interview: Peter Williams QC Says Police Let Off The Hook But Constructive Inquiry Must Satisfy Public Interest

In this Triangle TV interview with Selwyn Manning renowned Queen’s Counsel Peter Williams says the Police were let off the hook in the High Court but that a “constructive independent inquiry” must be held to satisfy the public interest surrounding this Government-GCSB-Police Scandal.

Peter Williams QC said the questions put to Police Detective Inspector Grant Wormald by Kim Dotcom’s defence counsel in the High Court were not specific enough to tie the officer down.

In the High Court in August, Kim Dotcom’s defence counsel Paul Davison asks Detective Inspector Grant Wormald: “So apart from the surveillance which [the police surveillance team] might have been going to undertake on your behalf was there any other surveillance being undertaken here in New Zealand to your knowledge?”

DI Wormald replied: “No there wasn’t.”

When it became public knowledge in September that the Government Communications Security Bureau had indeed committed unlawful surveillance during the Police-led Operation Debut, Detective Inspector Wormald told Fairfax media that he was asked in the High Court about “physical surveillance” or bugging and was not referring to the snooping of emails and phone calls – the latter being the GCSB’s contribution to the surveillance.

In the Triangle TV interview, Mr Williams said, during Davison’s questioning in the High Court the Judge should have ordered the officer to reveal the name of the government agency and should have narrowed the questioning so it was delivered with more “specificity” with regard to whether this secret agency was involved with surveillance in the Kim Dotcom – Megaupload operation.

Mr Williams said the lack of “specificity” in the questioning gave the Police officer an avenue within which he could answer in a way without committing perjury.

However, Mr Williams added that it is reasonable for the public to form a view that the Police officer was not responding in a truthful manner – in essence, he said, the Police got off the hook.

Like New Zealand First leader Winston Peters, Mr Williams said for the public and national interest to be satisfied a broad “constructive” independent inquiry must be held. (Click here to see Winston Peters’ interview with Selwyn Manning where this GCSB/Police surveillance scandal is examined.)

 

TIMELINE OF EVENTS:

 

  • On August 10, 2012, under questioning by Paul Davison QC, Detective Inspector Grant Wormald informed the High Court that a government agency took park in operational planning at a meeting on Dec 14, 2011.
  • Paul Davison QC then asked Detective Inspector Wormald to identify that agency, he refused citing the secret status of the agency.
  • Paul Davison QC then asked whether any other surveillance apart from that of the Police took place – In direct quotes: Paul Davison QC asks: “So apart from the surveillance which might have been going to undertake on your behalf was there any other surveillance being undertaken here in New Zealand to your knowledge?” Detective Inspector Wormald replies: “No there wasn’t.”
  • Aug 17, 2012: Bill English signs ministerial certificate suppressing details of GCSB involvement.

The Questions:

 

THE POLICE – AN ATTEMPTED COVER-UP?

 

Question1:

What is your view of the GCSB’s unlawful surveillance of Megaupload boss Kim Dotcom?

Question 2:

Do you believe the Police officer committed perjury when he replied “No there wasn’t.” when asked was there any other surveillance being undertaken?

Question 3:

What possible defences may be asserted by the Police?

Question 4:

What do you think was the GCSB’s motivation to seek and acquire a suppression order by way of a ministerial certificate from the acting Prime Minister Bill English?

Question 5:

Should the New Zealand Police be the entity that investigates the GCSB’s unlawful surveillance?

 

THE PUBLIC INTEREST:

 

Question 6:

What is the public to make of this series of events?

Question 7:

How can the public interest be satisfied over this whole affair?

Question 8:

What kind of inquiry do you feel needs to be initiated into this affair?

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Selwyn Manning, BCS (Hons.) MCS (Hons.) is an investigative political journalist with 23 years media experience. He specializes in reportage and analysis of socioeconomics, politics, foreign affairs, and security/intelligence issues. Selwyn has extensive experience as a commentator and has provided live political analysis to a wide range of television and radio organizations broadcasting in New Zealand, Australia and globally including the BBC (Five Live, London) and BBC (World Service). He is currently a correspondent to Australia's FiveAA radio, and is a regular live-on-air panelist on Radio New Zealand's The Panel with broadcaster Jim Mora.