15 Mar 2023

Calls for Police Minister Stuart Nash to resign over 'interference'

1:01 pm on 15 March 2023
Stuart Nash

Photo: RNZ / Samuel Rillstone

The opposition is demanding Police Minister Stuart Nash resign after criticising a judge's decision and revealing he phoned the police commissioner to discuss whether it would be appealed.

Nash was not police minister at the time of the conversation, but the government is expected to remain independent from judicial and police prosecutorial decisions.

Nash was on Newstalk ZB this morning defending the government's record on law and order, touting 28,000 charges for more than 7000 gang members laid by the police's gang-focused Operation Cobalt.

"There's been a couple of times when police have put these guys in front of judges, because that's the role of police and that's for the judges to determine and I've seen a couple of judgments," he said.

"And actually, one I phoned up the police commissioner and said 'surely you're going to appeal this'.

"This bloke didn't have a licence, had illegal firearms, illegal ammunition and had guns without a licence - and got home detention. I think that was a terrible decision by the judge. Judges need to read the room on this. Society is sick to death of these gang members creating havoc and we want it to be dealt with appropriately but unfortunately police don't determine what happens to them once they get to court."

Questioned by reporters at Parliament, Nash said he had spoken to the police commissioner.

"Yeah, that's what I said on the radio - this was a conversation that happened about two years ago, go and have a look at the case yourself."

He said he had not been interfering with prosecution decisions, or urging the commissioner to appeal.

"I wasn't the minister of police at the time. I'm not interfering in any way, shape or form ... I'm asking him 'would he consider appealing this case'," he said.

"I was chewing the fat with a guy who was a mate about a decision that I thought was very bad, in a circumstance that I had been involved in when I was a minister of police buying back firearms and I'm going to leave it at that.

"The police commissioner is a very enabled, very smart man who can make his own decisions. When he gets a mate calling and questioning him about the veracity of a case it's up to him to determine."

Nash was police minister in 2019 during the government's gun buyback scheme, which was part of a crackdown on firearms after the terror attack on Christchurch mosques four years ago today.

Asked about the closeness of his relationship with the commissioner, he said he had close relationships with all his officials.

"As the minister of police, I have a very good relationship with the commissioner of police and I think it's very important ... I have close relationships with all officials I deal with including the commissioner of police."

He said he stood by his criticism of the judge's decision, however.

"I thought it was a bad decision and I stand by my criticism of that decision. This is a guy who had no licence, had illegal firearms, illegal ammunition and guns and the judge said 'well, you're not part of a gang, therefore you can have home detention' - and I stand by the fact it was a bad decision."

ACT's David Seymour has been criticising Nash over his statements, saying he should no longer be police minister.

"I don't think he is grasping the gravity of this situation by trying to downplay it ... the first thing you would hope that someone in this situation would do would be to apologise and the second would be to say 'look I'll leave it up to others but I'm quite prepared to resign the post if the prime minister thinks that is what's in the best interests of New Zealand.

"The separation between politics and the justice system is one of the most important defences of New Zealanders' freedom, it means that you're not going to be investigated, prosecuted, have your prosecution appealed or be locked up for political reasons.

ACT leader David Seymour and deputy leader Brooke van Velden

Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

"The proper way for a politician to deal with frustration with the judiciary and their decisions is not to interfere in individual cases but actually go through a transparent process of amending the laws that are there in public for everyone to read."

He compared it to the resignation of then-Building and Construction Minister Maurice Williamson in 2014, after he discussed an investigation into a wealthy businessman with a senior police officer.

"I think there are a few small differences in the two cases of trying to interfere with police prosecutorial decisions. Yes it's true that Maurice Williamson knew the person, on the other hand his actions are a bit more ambiguous," Seymour said.

"While Maurice Williamson was very contrite and resigned, Stuart Nash - we found out about this because he's openly boasting that he tries to direct prosecutorial decisions."

He said Prime Minister Chris Hipkins should be stepping in and at least remove Nash from the police portfolio.

"Perhaps he could be useful elsewhere, I know there's a lot of work to be done in forestry, perhaps he could focus on that but he certainly should not be the police minister.

"He really should have said 'I accept this is wrong, I know the Cabinet Manual, I know the Policing Act, I know what I've done is improper'."

National's Police Spokesperson Mark Mitchell confirmed to RNZ he was backing Seymour's calls for Nash to go.

"He doubled down on his comments and actions instead of acknowledging they were wrong and apologising for them.

"His position as a Cabinet Minister is now compromised."