Letter to Andrew Little, Minister of Justice

Auckland Unitarian Church
1a Ponsonby Road
Grey Lynn
AUCKLAND 1011
www.aucklandunitarian.org.nz

13 August 2019

The Rt Honourable Andrew Little
Minister of Justice
Freepost Parliament
Private Bag 18 888
Parliament Buildings
WELLINGTON 6160

Email copy sent to
a.little@ministers.govt.nz.

Email Copy sent to
The Rt Hon Jacinda Ardern
Prime Minister
jacinda.ardern@parliament.govt.nz.

Dear Minister,

We are writing to express our deep concern after hearing of the distress experienced by many of the victims and their supporters at the first hearing of the alleged perpetrator of the March 15 2019 Mosque attacks.

We know that your government responded admirably to this horrific event, showing leadership in compassion, inclusivity and in the decisive action taken to address gun control.1

In view of this enlightened response, we wonder if you are aware of the profound outcomes of the legal process on the victims, their families and their supporters following that initial hearing.

  1. The victims and families felt that their trauma and grief were not acknowledged by the court. 
  2. The date for the next hearing has been set for a Friday, the Muslim day of prayer. 
  3. Furthermore, this hearing is scheduled to take place during the holy month of Ramadan. 

All of these factors are understandably causing distress to the victims and their supporters, many of whom have travelled from overseas to attend this hearing.  

Background – how this awareness came about.

Our church is concerned about the ongoing well being of Muslim people in New Zealand. Several members of our community visited the Ponsonby Al- Masjid Al-Jamie Mosque after the Mosque shootings in Christchurch.  Following this we decided to invite Mr. Aarif Rasheed to address us. He is known to us through one of our church member’s connection with the Methodist Mission Northern. 

Mr. Aarif Rasheed is a Criminal Defence Barrister who has extensive experience and expert knowledge across a range of criminal defence issues and is particularly interested in culturally sensitive and compassionate legal services. He delivered an address on the 7th of July this year to our congregation, reflecting on significant events since the 15th of March shootings. Mr. Rasheed talked about some of the issues faced by himself at a personal level, but also of the overwhelming impact of the recent hearing on the collective New Zealand Muslim community. We were also saddened to hear that the Muslim Community are feeling too vulnerable to ask for themselves for their religious considerations be taken into account in this legal context, for fear of a backlash.

Whilst we acknowledge the necessity of impartiality in judicial hearings and the need to apply well-respected legal principles, we also stress the need to accommodate the specific needs of all people within our pluralistic New Zealand society. We were therefore gravely concerned to hear of the apparent lack of any acknowledgement of the extreme grief of the victims, their families and their supporters who were present in the court. We note that positive changes are occurring in the current New Zealand Family Law Courts related to Maori values and tikanga23. In the same spirit, we suggest that other cultural traditions and expectations need to be addressed. 

We respectfully ask that you Minister, do the following:

  1. Strongly recommend to the relevant ministries and courts involved that the hearing date be changed to a more culturally and religiously appropriate time and date.
  2. Instigate the development of a training module for all judges and court staff that acknowledges our New Zealand citizens’ diverse needs for cultural awareness and sensitivity, specifically in this case, of our fellow Muslim New Zealanders. 
  3. We acknowledge that further legislation may be needed in the future to address the broader concerns raised in this letter.

We look forward to your response.

Yours faithfully,

Shirin Caldwell
For the Peace and Social Justice Group of the
Auckland Unitarian Church
1a Ponsonby Road
Grey Lynn
Auckland 1011

1 The Auckland Unitarian Church made a submission to the Secretariat and Members of Parliament on 1st April 2019, supporting meaningful change to the proposed Gun Law Reform. We are delighted with the progress made by the government.

2 New Zealand Law Commission. (2001) Maori participation in the Family Court. Study Paper 9 MAORI CUSTOM AND VALUES IN NEW ZEALAND LAW. Law Commission Te-Aka-Matua-0-Te-Ture
https://www.lawcom.govt.nz/sites/default/files/projectAvailableFormats/NZLC SP9.pdf

3 Ministry 0f Justice (2000). Speaking about cultural background in sentencing. Section 16 of the Criminal Justice Act of 1985. Chetwin, A., Waldegrave W., Simonsen, K. Ministry of Justice Wellington New Zealand.
https://www.justice.govt.nz/assets/Documents/Publications/section-16.pdf