What Mark Taylor could be prosecuted for

If Mark Taylor manages to get from captivity in Syria to Turkey, and then back to New Zealand – the Government nor anyone else seems to be rushing to help him come back here – he is likely to be taken into custody pending prosecutions. What he might face is yet to be determined, but there’s a variety of possibilities.

Stuff – Mark Taylor: The potential legal case facing the ‘Kiwi jihadi’ if he makes it home to New Zealand

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said “Kiwi jihadi” Mark Taylor would face the full force of the law if he returned to New Zealand, so what would that look like?

Ardern made clear “it is unlawful to join and fight with a terrorist organisation as Taylor has done”, so there would certainly be legal consequences.

Is it Ardern’s call to make? Prime Ministers wouldn’t usually get involved in prosecutions, politicians are supposed to get a separation between them and the administration of the law.

If Taylor manages to make his own way to consular assistance – the closest available is in Turkey – and return to New Zealand it’s likely he will be picked up at the airport by authorities and brought to prison awaiting criminal prosecution.

That seems like a given. It would be alarming if this didn’t happen.

In 2015, police took “further security measures” after Taylor posted a YouTube video urging Islamic State followers in New Zealand to launch attacks on Anzac Day.

This week police told Stuff if a New Zealand citizen suspected of associating with a terrorist group were to return, they would be investigated under New Zealand law.

Police were working closely with domestic and international partners as part of its efforts to ensure the safety and security of New Zealand and New Zealanders.

“The circumstances of these individuals is highly complex and any investigation or possible judicial proceedings would be considered on a case by case basis. Police does not discuss matters regarding specific individuals.”

So what is Ardern giving her opinion for then?

Legal experts say Taylor’s social media and video postings would like see him charged under the Crimes Act, Terrorism Suppression Act and possibly the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act.

He would be refused bail but would avail the rights offered to every citizen in the criminal justice system and his case would likely be long and drawn out through the courts.

The prosecution would not necessarily be a slam dunk with much of the case dependent on proof.

It’s normal for just about any legal case to depend on proof.

Dr Bill Hodge from the University of Auckland law faculty…

“As I understand it, he wasn’t shooting but acting on guard duty but that in itself is routine military exercise. Even if he wasn’t shooting or beheading, he was enabling others to do those things.”

“I think he’d be faced with a maximum possible sentence of 14 years, on the outer limits.”

That must surely depend on what he is charge with.

Professor Alberto Costi​ from Victoria University, who specialises in armed conflicts and international criminal law, said it was not clear what Taylor really done but he had boasted about what he was involved in.

There were provisions in the Crimes Act for threatening to kill as well as the International Crimes and International Criminal Court Act, such as war crimes, crimes against humanity.

John Ip, senior law lecturer at the University of Auckland, said Taylor could be charged with several crimes.

War crimes were a possibility.

He cites a case from Sweden, where a former rebel was convicted and sentenced to life imprisonment for war crimes – more specifically, involvement in the execution of captured Syrian government soldiers.

However, it’s more likely Taylor would face prosecution under the Terrorism Suppression Act. It states any person who even joins a designated terrorist organisation, is liable on conviction to imprisonment for up to 14 years.

That’s where the 14 year maximum comes from, but that’s just one possible charge.

Another possibility under the same act, was to commit a terrorist act, punishable by up to life imprisonment, he says.

Ip and other legal experts agree, the most likely offence would likely be section 13 of the act; participating in a terrorist group, which would not require proof of specific wrongful conduct such as executing prisoners and killing civilians. The law describes the participation in a designated terrorist entity.

But Ip says there is no guiding case law on what terms like “participation” mean.

“The sections have never been used and sitting moribund since the aborted prosecution in relation to the Operation Eight raids in 2007.”

Whatever Taylor ends up being charged with it would be a test case and is likely to be challenging to both prosecute and defend.

Would it go before a jury? It could be hard to find 12 people in new Zealand who don’t think he’s an idiot who deserves to have the legal book thrown at him.

It’s possible that with untested law he gets off on a technicality.

Another possibility is some sort of charge and plea agreement. Taylor has already claimed or admitted quite a bit. He might find it simpler and less risky to cooperate and accept a moderate sentence.

Defamation – “there could be a chilling effect”

The huge amount that a jury awarded Jordan Williams in his defamation case against Colin Craig has raised quite a few eyebrows.

In Craig’s ‘breathtaking’ $1.3m defamation damages could set New Zealand record, says legal expert Auckland University Associate Professor of Law Bill Hodge has a warning:

Hodge, who has written a book on defamation, said the fallout from the case could be so wide-ranging it could even have a chilling effect on media.

“There could be a chilling effect. If I’m an editor and I’m looking at my energetic reporters who are out there investigating, I’m going to say ‘just be careful’,” he said.

“There could be chilling in the sense of taking a second look at things. Editorial judgments may err on the side of caution rather than a ‘go for it’ attitude.”

I’m sure media companies will be looking at this case with a lot of interest, and it may well prompt re-evaluations of stories where defamation could be a potential issue.

It should be of interest to anyone who publishes or posts online. I’ve been threatened with defamation more than once, so of course I have to note how the courts currently deal with defamation.

Posting a comment on Facebook or tweeting is far from the same scale as a country wide letter box drop but it doesn’t rule out someone threatening defamation and possible taking action. It could be justified, or it could be vexatious, but in either case it could become a costly nuisance.

I’m sure Andrew Little has at least one eyebrow raised over the Craig award, as he is currently facing defamation action. All politicians are likely to take an interest given that they seek publicity and often try to damage the reputations of others.

Taking defamation cases as far as court is still likely to be relatively rare due to the costs and the risks. As Williams found out even if you win you risk a lot of exposure and some of that may be adverse.

Defamation law is important, but it could easily escalate – Craig has threatened defamation a number of times in the past and  as well as the just finished (for now) case he is involved in several other actions both initiated by him and against him. I think it is feasible that Craig could succeed in claiming defamation against him, but also lose other cases due to a disproportionate response.

Hodge raises a valid concern about a possible chilling effect, but more than the effects on media and the extra care they may take about what they publish, the biggest chills may come if  defamation is used as a political weapon, a form of ‘dirty politics’ escalated.

Slater explains Craig’s appeal problem

Bill Hodge, expert on defamation, has called the award of $1.27 million in damages against Colin Craig as “breathtaking, eye-watering and mind-boggling” and that it is potentially a landmark moment in New Zealand defamation history.

NZH: Craig’s ‘breathtaking’ $1.3m defamation damages could set New Zealand record, says legal expert

A Kiwi defamation expert says the $1.3 million in damages former Conservative Party leader Colin Craig has been ordered to pay Jordan Williams is “breathtaking” and could make legal history.

In what could end up being the largest sum ever paid in a Kiwi defamation case, Auckland University Associate Professor of Law Bill Hodge says yesterday’s decision is a landmark moment.

Describing the $1.3m sum as incredible, Hodge predicts legal experts around the globe will be tracking the case – which he thinks is far from over.

“It’s breathtaking, eye-watering and mind-boggling. These are all the adjectives I would use to describe the amount,” Hodge said.

Hodge says he expects the Craig decision will also be appealed in a notoriously complex and expensive area of New Zealand law.

“There will be an appeal,” Hodge said. “The legal issues are extremely significant because it’s the equivalent of a self-defence response.

“It’s a difficult area, defences in defamation particularly. It needs further examination as to the extent that someone can ‘hit back’.

“My personal opinion is that the jury decided Craig went over the top with his response. He might have had a legitimate response if it was measured and in the appropriate form.

“It’s a bit like he was slapped by Jordan and he pulled out an automatic weapon and fired all his shots.”

Cameron Slater, who is lining up his own defamation case against Craig and I think has attended the whole of the proceedings in Williams v Craig, has posted a number of times on it since the jury announced their finding.

One of his best explanations of the problems Craig face with appealing the jury decision was actually in a comment on one of these posts, Why Colin Craig is pissing in the wind.

Here is the problem. The jury was given what is called a Question Trail. That is a trail of questions they need to answer in a logical manner to step them through the legal complexity of defamation law. The judge spent two hours summing up and directing the jury on how to use this Question trail to come to their decisions.

The Question Trail was drafted by Craig’s lawyer, then approved by Jordan’s lawyer and then finally by the Judge. Mills drafted the Question Trail to start with the defence if Qualified Privilege, then move to truth when that failed and then to honest opinion after that.

The Question trail contained 14 questions, and there were two counts so the jury had to step through 28 questions and write up their reasoning beside each one and hand that tot eh judge after the verdict was given.

The first few questions stepped through qualified privilege. They would not have been required to step through any more questions if the jury had considered qualified privilege and decided it applied. They clearly passed through those questions after quite some time…they deliberated for 10 hours.

They also stepped through the truth and honest opinion and came to the conclusion that Colin Craig HAD defamed Jordan Williams.

Further they considered the defamation to so extreme, so outrageous and so deliberate that they decided to award punitive damages against Craig.

When this gets to the Court of Appeal Craig is going to find the judges will look at the punitive damages and decided accordingly. Same with the qualified privilege argument. Mills knows they considered it, he would have known that after the jury retired for the night the first day. After that he would have been counselling his client to prepare for a loss.

Why?

Because in his closing argument he spent precisely two and half minutes explaining to the jury the truth defence, 5 minutes on honest opinion and a massive 40 minutes on qualified privilege. Craig was totally and utterly relying on qualified privilege.

For those who don’t know qualified privilege can be lost. Firstly if you were motivated by ill will in your response. The evidence was clear on that. Colin was motivated by ill will and the jury must have agreed.

I think ill will is still debatable. The jury does seem to have agreed that it was ill will, and I haven’t heard all the evidence, but I think Craig’s motivation is possible more complex than simple ill will.

The second was to lose qualified privilege is the breadth of the response. Jordan Williams spoke to about 5 people about Craig, Craig thought an appropriate response was to call him a liar in 1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide. Now you can see why the jury decided he lost qualified privilege.

While Hodge and a number of others have agreed that the 1.6 million pamphlets look like an inappropriate response – I have always thought they were an inappropriate response since they were sent out – I think the key is whether it was disproportionate enough to justify a massive award.

Slater understates Williams actions – “Jordan Williams spoke to about 5 people about Craig” omits a key detail, one of those who Williams spoke to and gave evidence to was Slater, and that is almost certain to have been in the knowledge that Slater would post about it on Whale Oil. In court it was claimed that Williams threatened exposure via Whale Oil when asking Conservative Party officials to dump Craig.

So the comparison is “1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide” versus “speaking to “about 5 people” plus publication on Whale Oil, which has a significant readership and Williams and Slater will have known and probably hoped that mainstream media would pick up what was posted about Craig and give it wider publicity.

“1.6 million booklets delivered nationwide” is still greater than posting on line and getting widespread news coverage, and Craig also sought news coverage through his press conference, but is quite a bit closer than Slater implies. Still inappropriate, over the top and quite possibly still over the legal line as far as defamation goes, but the degree of excessiveness could be debated in Court of Appeal, along with the amount of the damages.

That left truth as a defence, which was gone the moment you examine the Mr X interview. And honest opinion was forlorn as well.

Colin Craig will likely appeal this, but he is also likely to lose that appeal.

It sounds like Craig intends to appeal. If he does I think it’s quite likely it won’t be fully successful, but I think the chances of an adjustment in the amount of damages are quite high.

But Williams advantage is that he will start an appeal process from a very high point. Even if the award was halved or even quartered it would still be substantial, especially if costs are also awarded against Craig.

Also up for debate, although I don’t know whether this will be covered in any appeal, is what sort a reputation Williams had and how much it could be reduced by Craig’s actions. How much was Williams’ reputation damaged by what Craig published, versus how much his reputation was confirmed by what was revealed in Hager’s ‘Dirty Politics’ (which has never been tested in court) and what was revealed in court.

Both the legal actions and the debate on this are probably far from over.