Pacific Scoop

Indian Kiwis hurt by a seemingly warped New Zealand justice system

Navtej Singh and his wife Harjinder Kaur.

Security footage of Navtej Singh's killers during the robbery of his liquor store in Manurewa.

Pacific Scoop:
Opinion – By Thakur Ranjit Singh, Pacific Media Centre, AUT University.

The verdict of the jury (and the court) in the murder trial of the killers of Navtej Singh, Manurewa liquor store owner who was shot in his store last year in a gang robbery, has sent wrong signals about the fairness and the consistency of the justice system in New Zealand.

What confused many Indian community leaders, general public, journalists and even some members of the legal fraternity is how come only one out of the group of six got convicted for murder while all the other accomplices escaped any of the serious convictions.

That is also the question that Harjinder Kaur, the widow of murdered Navtej Singh is asking. She wishes to know what went wrong and why the other five men who were charged with murder have been found not guilty of both murder and manslaughter.

The verdict has also confused this author who has done some research on the past precedents and case laws and came to a conclusion that the verdict contradicts previous case laws, and in fact borders on travesty of justice.

In a racially inspired murder of Michael Choy, a pizza delivery man on September 13 2003 in South Auckland by five Samoan and Pacific Islander youths, the learned judge, Justice C.J. Elias said:

“..those convicted of murder and manslaughter were convicted as parties to culpable homicide in reliance on s66 (2) of the Crimes Act 1961 through their participation in a common design to rob Mr Choy.”

The learned judge further added that where two or more persons form a common intention to carry out any unlawful activity and to assist each other in the crime, each of them is a party to every offence committed by any one of them in the carrying out of that common crime, where it was know that such act could result in murder.

In another gang related case involving six members of JCB gang which attacked and injured members of PDBs in Otara, South Auckland on October 22 2005, Justice Winkelmann ruled that all six were guilty and the verdict of guilt suggested that the jury was satisfied that while Levi Smith was the principal offender, the remaining five were part of a criminal enterprise and knew their action could result in serious injury or even worse.

For the August 2007 murder of the three-year-old Nia Glassie in Rotorua by her loved ones who should have protected her, the court ruled heavily and convicted more than one relative for murder and manslaughter for a group crime and came out with little mercy on the offenders for a heinous crime on a defenceless baby.

Members of Auckland’s Indian community are also confused and perhaps perturbed by the justice system which appears to be giving a signal that the killers of Indians have an easy exit from the justice system. As a journalist who has covered three recent violent deaths and funerals of Indians in the local media, I can appreciate such concerns which have high elements of merit in them.

On January 25 2008, Sai Krishna Naidu, was stabbed to death in his father’s Manurewa dairy by a 16 year old, Tiare Towihi Nathan, who had been declared criminally insane, and is supposed to spend a great deal of time in hospital. The question that I had posed at the time of Naidu’s death was who is responsible for releasing such loose cannons in a civilized society? Should not the parents or doctors who fail to diagnose such vice and threat to our community be held responsible for their actions?

Nobody knows where Nathan is now; he could well be out in the community, running about as a loose cannon primed to blow on another innocent victim away.

The second death was that of an elderly grandfather, Jasmat Bhai Patel, who was assaulted by Auckland Unitec student Bio O’Brien on April 8 2009, in a road rage. He was sentenced to three years imprisonment, and should be out of jail shortly after one year of jail time.

There was outrage at this sentence, and the Hindu Elders Foundation, an organization representing senior citizens, raised its concerns in its Elders conference held in Manukau in October last year. Elders had raised a question that if the person killed was Helen Clark’s or John Key’s father instead of the father of an Indian green grocer, would the sentence on his killer have been any different?

Now, with the apparent laxity in the court verdict of Navtej Singh’s slaying, which runs contrary to case laws and precedents, can you really blame the Indian community for displaying the race card?

Australia has recently been reeling from so called race-related attacks in Melbourne and the issue has reached the international stage.

If the consistency with which the killers of Indians have been getting off easily continues, a time will come in the near future when the community leaders will ask for explanations and may well throw in the race card, which already appears to be on the table.

President of a Sanatan Pratinidhi Sabha, (a Hindu religious group), Jayati Prasad strongly deplored the law and order in the country. He claimed that democracy and equal rights were only confined to paper while in reality, the situation reeked of racism, discrimination and lopsided treatment, and questioned why others in the group escaped serious conviction. He called it a shameful judgement and condemned the action of the police that led to Navtej’s death.

Bhairav Kandpal, Secretary of Hindu Elders Foundation, echoed Prasad’s sentiments and added that the sentencing was shocking, inconsistent with past similar cases and not in tune with the gravity of the crime.

The Chairman of the Auckland Indian Association’s Law and Order Committee, Ashok Darji, told TVNZ that Indian business owners were feeling very vulnerable as there have been some seven murders in the past.

Head of another senior citizen’s group, Satya Prakash Pahuja, poses the question why the others did not get convicted for such a serious crime that was hatched, planned and executed as a group. He said many consider the convicted will receive five star treatment while in prison and the failure of the justice system to be perceived as fair and just could lead to a ‘rule of the jungle’ creeping into New Zealand’s communities.

In the meantime, recently settled communities (migrants) such as Indians tend to replace the Anglo Saxon community as frontline workers in dairies, liquor shops, taxi driving, security officers and similar higher risk jobs. The likelihood of more of them being killed by youths from unstable communities, and unsavory family backgrounds, will continue.

The only hope is that the justice system will not leave itself open to criticisms it has attracted in this case, and will not allow itself to be branded as inconsistent, too politically correct, and even racist.

What is difficult to understand is that while legally only one is the murderer, all the others who contributed to his death are considered mere petty thieves!

There is a slang which says that the ‘law is an ass’. In this instance I have no reason to dispute that. In fact, I am inclined to concur with it.

Thakur Ranjit Singh is a community worker from Waitakere City, a political commentator and a postgraduate student in communication studies (journalism) at AUT University. He is also a volunteer at AUT’s Pacific Media Centre.


  1. Kerry, 10. March 2010, 12:14

    Excellent article, Thakur, please continue to keep the pressure on the Justice Ministry on this issue.

    Not all anglo-saxon new zealanders will agree with this decision, myself included. I have friends and relatives within the Fijian-Indian community in NZ, and I was horrifed by the violence meted out to Navtej Singh, and my sympathy is deep for his young widow, and their extended family.

    The Ministry of Justice must take an even hand when deciding on the outcome of crime against all residents and citizens of our country, not just those who live in preferred postal districts.

    Crime, particularly premeditated homicide, must be judged on the facts, and as has been so eloquently proved in this article, ther should be no charge of bias able to be laid at the feet of our Courts.

    When the charges are not adequately laid, or the defendants not carefully prosecuted, there can be serious miscarriage of justice, which many recent cases through the Courts (on a variety of charges) have shown.

    Biases held by prosecting Police staff, and even by Courts staff, should not effect the outcome of a trial for homicide.

  2. Thakur Ranjit Singh, 10. March 2010, 14:21

    Thanks Kerry for your comments. As somebody from Fiji, I know that Fiji has, what appears to be a more “civilised” assessors system where the assessors act as mere advisors to the Judge and NOT as adjudicators as in case on NZ Jury system. In case of Fiji’s assessors system, we have had cases where the Judge overturned and has authority to overturn the decision of assessors if the decision is not in tune with the law.
    In case of NZ, even if the Judge disagrees with the Jury, he is powerless to do anything but to accept the verdict. It is time the whole effectiveness (or rather the lack of it) of the Jury system needs to be debated as it appears to be letting down a community and is very easy on the unruly thugs most of who happen to generally come from one section of NZ community. Some of the nonsensical verdicts of court (two I have quoted) show that the Jury system needs an urgent review as it appears to lack consistency and fairness.
    The purpose of this article is to raise awareness and prompt debate in this area.

  3. Mike, 10. March 2010, 14:22

    Thanks Thakur for such an excellent, and dare I say restrained, article.

    I join with Kerry above in offering both my deepest sympathies and my full support to Mr Singh’s wife. You riase an excellent question – what exactly would have been rthe sentence if the victim had been John Key’s father?
    Keep up the pressure and take some comfort, such as it is, from the knowledge that it is not only the Indian cmmunity that feels this outrage, but most of us around you.

  4. Race and the law « The Standard (Pingback), 11. March 2010, 13:37

    […] who have been following this and similar cases see a clear pattern emerging: Indian Kiwis hurt by a seemingly warped New Zealand justice […]

  5. Ray Spring, 11. March 2010, 16:51

    Brilliant article. We wait for the Crown to appeal the verdicts.

  6. PK, 11. March 2010, 18:34

    In two of those examples the victims were either Pacific Island or Maori. Does this imply that a group is more likely to be charged with the same offence if they attack someone from those groups, compared to attacking an Indian person?

    In any case, I agree they all should have been convicted of the murder.

  7. Tasi, 17. March 2010, 15:59

    I was a bit surprised with the verdicts, but as we were not there through the whole trial it is hard to say whether we also would have come to the same reasoning as the jury. Afterall, isn’t murder when you have the intent of killing, and actually killing the victim? If the others did not have the intention then by law they can not be found guilty of murder. However it was open to the jury to find the others guilty of manslaughter. Again, perhaps the jury was not convinced of even that.

  8. Anand, 22. June 2012, 23:04

    hi! i have been living in NZ since last one decade. Having assaulted for first time after work and premises ( incident unreported but the attacker- maori origin) forced me to leave besides motel manager knowing who these people were on the camping ground. I did not call the police but the motel owner also took liberty of me being an immigrant. who cares- these people come and go? Police was frequently seen on the camping ground. I have been intimidated many times and at one incident I was hit by a car of a security guard while I was stationary in secured place. It hit me twice after that and complained to me that he is going to call the police. Third time, it was two guys who hit me and one of whom was with a maori origin and will keep harassing me. While on foot , I often hear sometimes from homeless who do not like others to be there. I tried to bring it to attention of many indian office bearers ( including high commission of India)and police. High commission of India had replied,” there are so many , how is it possible to look after every concerns of each.” Recent death of this young man during night security was a surprise and how indian community has handled this lawlessness. I returned to India, and before this I tried to take help from authorities in India. Things are better but I am surprised that Indian community does have some responsibility using media in air or print to make every community member aware what is happening.