Friday, March 07, 2008

Associating

I walked up the steps of the Auckland District Court and joined the queue to go through the metal detector. I knew I would be fine; I've learned to dress for metal detectors. But I wasn't sure about my bag, which had metal knitting needles in it. I tried to pre-empt any challenge and told the guard. He asked his boss, a man who was clearly dedicated to his moustache. I showed him that I was knitting with circular needles and the pointy bit was really short (and blunt)

"What are you here for?"

"I'm just here to support some people who are going to court" I recognised him from when we'd been up last year, and I was pretty sure he recognised me.

"Well you can take them in, but keep them hidden. I wouldn't want anyone else to see them and stab someone with them."

Court always manages to describe my social position so precisely.

Also supposedly I had come up to support terrorists (albeit terrorists the government couldn't charged because of badly written law). And yet the fact that I'm a terrorist associate makes the court staff think that I'm safer to carry pointy metal things (however short and blunt).

Imagine a close-knit group you have been part of. A group of people who hang out in the same places, work together, and see each other most days. Now imagine that some of your friends would go to jail if they saw each other. Imagine that they were close friends with each other.

When those arrested with arms charges were released on November 9 most of them were placed on non-association orders. Emily Bailey and Urs Signer (previously the 23 year old Swiss Musician) were allowed to associate with each other but not Valerie Morse. It's made it hard few months for most of us who know them, I can't even begin to imagine what it's been like for them. To see someone you love and not be able to talk to them, to have to leave anywhere if they arrive.

There was a lot going on at court on the fifth. They set the depositions hearing, the media argued about how necessary it was to be able to take pictures (and then didn't use any), and there were changes to bail conditions.

The important bail condition for me, and most people who'd come up from Wellington, were the non-association orders between Val, Em and Urs. All of the bail conditions are ridiculous, but this was the one that was causing the most pain for us.

They came up sooner than I thought they would, other people were only seeking bail variations which weren't opposed by the crown. Then the registrar called 'Emily Bailey'. Almost immediately the discussion between the defence and the crown descended into a legal discussion that doesn't make any sense to anyone else. On the day of their release the High Court had ruled that Em and Val weren't allowed to associate. The crown was arguing that the district court didn't have jurisdiction and Michael Bott (who was acting for Val, Em & Urs today) was arguing that they did. The argument went on without getting anywhere.

Val went and stood at the front of the gallery

We seemed to be losing, the judge talked about how put out the High Court judge would be if he heard his decision had been over-turned in the district court.

Urs went and stood beside Val.

I didn't want us to lose it like this, over a technical matter, without even making an argument. But the judge didn't seem like he would give a judgement, and so the status quo would continue.

The pause was only a small one, but I saw Val taking a breath.

"With all due respect" she said* "You are discussing the decision about association between myself and Emily Bailey. There has been no hearing, or decision about association between myself and Urs Signer."

The crown didn't even have anything to say to that, and a few seconds later the judge ordered a variation to Valerie Morse and Urs Signer's bail conditions to allow them to associate with each other.

Val and Urs hugged and we applauded.

When I was in court on the 15th of October we didn't applaud at all. The judge threatened to clear the court when we waved to those in the dock(he also ordered a baby to leave court, because the baby loved the defendants). Those sitting in the gallery were in shock and wouldn't do anything to risk the few moments we got to see our friends.

We pushed the boundaries, a little bit, over time. We started standing, we even started applauding. In the high court on the 9th of November, when we knew they were going to be released, we didn't care. We walked around, called out, passed notes, and applauded.

Now they're out we're not so scared, and neither are the defendants - we're starting to speak back. When Watene McClutchie, one of the defendants, was told to leave the stand he replied "I want my curfew lifted" and it was (a little bit later). We're going to be embroiled in this legal system for a very long time (the depositions hearing is set down for a week in September), speaking back is a good start.

* It's up in the air exactly how much respect was due.

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