Statement on Moko caseAttorney-General
Attorney-General Christopher Finlayson today set out the reasons for the Crown’s decision to accept the manslaughter pleas of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa in substitution of murder charges for the killing of Moko Rangitoheriri.
Ms Shailer and Mr Haerewa were today both sentenced to 17 years in prison, with a minimum non-parole period of nine years. Until that sentencing took place, the Attorney-General and Solicitor-General were unable to comment on the specifics of the case, as the sentencing was a matter for the courts.
“The Crown’s decisions in this case, including the decision to accept the manslaughter pleas, were motivated by the need to secure convictions for this horrendous killing and to avoid the significant risk that either of the defendants could escape such a conviction because of evidential issues,” Mr Finlayson said.
“The guilty pleas and admitted facts enabled the Crown to argue for a sentence which reflected the nature of the crimes committed. Without the guilty pleas, the full details of the facts set out in the Statement of Facts may not have otherwise come to light.
“The decision to accept a plea of manslaughter in substitution of a murder charge is never taken lightly. A robust process is followed which ultimately requires the approval of the Solicitor-General.
“The overarching consideration is whether the interests of justice are met in accepting the plea and in particular, whether the charge can adequately reflect the criminal nature of the conduct as well as allow sufficient scope for sentencing.
“Based on the evidence available for trial, there was a substantial risk that one or both of the defendants would not be convicted of the legal charge of murder or manslaughter.
“To prove the legal charge of murder in this case, the Crown was required to prove beyond a reasonable doubt that Moko’s fatal injuries were inflicted with murderous intent.
“The Crown was confident that Ms Shailer was the principal offender and most likely directly responsible for Moko’s most serious injuries. The nature of Mr Haerewa's involvement in Moko’s fatal injuries was less clear on the evidence available for trial.
“It was relevant to the likelihood of securing a murder conviction that the injuries Moko suffered were not inevitably fatal. With reasonably prompt medical treatment, he could have been saved.
“Let me be clear, this in no way reduces the seriousness of the abuse Moko suffered. It is, however, something the jury would have had to take into account when deciding if Ms Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries.
“If the jury was not satisfied beyond a reasonable doubt that Ms Shailer had murderous intent at the time she inflicted the fatal injuries, then neither she nor Mr Haerewa could have been convicted of murder.
“Of course, the defendants also had a responsibility to obtain the medical treatment which would have saved Moko’s life. By failing to discharge this duty, they contributed to his death in addition to causing his fatal injuries.
“But the failure to discharge this duty could not in itself lead to a murder conviction for both defendants nor would a conviction for manslaughter based solely on this failure have adequately reflected the defendants’ role in inflicting the injuries which killed Moko.
“The Solicitor-General considered that accepting guilty pleas for manslaughter in substitution of murder charges meant that both Ms Shailer and Mr Haerewa:
- admitted responsibility for inflicting the injuries which killed Moko and their failure to obtain him lifesaving medical treatment; and
- could be given a sentence which reflected the serious nature of their crimes.
“Mr Haerewa admitted he had contributed to Moko's death by encouraging and supporting Ms Shailer's physical abuse. In the absence of his guilty plea, Mr Haerewa's role in the violence that killed Moko may not have been adequately recognised in the ultimate outcome of a trial.
“The guilty pleas in this case also avoided exposing young and vulnerable children to the trauma of giving evidence including, for some, evidence against their parents.
“There has been significant public interest in this case and numerous statements have been made in the media about the charging of Tania Shailer and David Haerewa.
“The cost of prosecuting this trial was not a factor taken into account in approving the manslaughter charge. The public interest in prosecuting such serious crime would never take into account the financial cost of bringing a defendant to trial.
“Nor is plea bargaining a feature of the New Zealand justice system. Prosecutors cannot agree to a guilty plea based on the premise they will support a specific sentence.”
Notes for the editor:
The Attorney-General has overall responsibility to the citizens of New Zealand for prosecutions carried out by or on behalf of the Crown through Parliament.
In practice, however, the Attorney-General is not involved in individual criminal cases. These matters are formally delegated to the Solicitor-General to avoid any political interference, or appearance of political interference, in our criminal justice system.
As set out in section 185 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011, the Solicitor-General is responsible for maintaining general oversight of the conduct of public prosecutions. As part of that role the Solicitor-General provides prosecution guidelines that all Crown Solicitors must adhere to.
In accordance with clause 18 of the guidelines, the Solicitor-General must approve all plea arrangements in relation to murder charges. Where a defendant indicates they will plead guilty to a charge of manslaughter, the Crown Solicitor is required to refer that offered plea to the Solicitor-General to approve the withdrawal of the murder charge in substitution for that of manslaughter.
The Crown Solicitor prepares a letter of advice for the Solicitor-General and forwards all relevant material from the trial file. Counsel within Crown Law prepare an initial opinion, which is then reviewed by senior Crown Counsel before final referral to the ultimate decision maker. The decision maker can be the Deputy Solicitor-General (Criminal) exercising the powers of the Solicitor-General, or the Solicitor-General her or himself.
Approval is only given after careful consideration of the factors detailed in the prosecution guidelines. The overarching consideration is whether the interests of justice are met and in particular:
- whether the charge adequately reflects the essential criminality of the conduct; and
- whether the charge provides sufficient scope for sentencing to reflect that criminality.
If a plea is accepted it is only on the basis that the factual basis for sentencing must outline in full the extent of the injury or damage suffered by the victim to ensure this can be reflected in sentencing.