Editorial : Waihopai Ploughshares – Crown Drops Claim

The Crown has unexpectedly dropped its court action against Waihopai Ploughshares and is no longer suing them for $1.2 million damages, the alleged cost of their disarmament action. This development comes in response to Waihopai Ploughshares application for leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against the October 2013 Court of Appeal decision allowing the Crown to seek damages.

The case began in April 2008, when three Catholic Workers – Adrian Leason, Fr Peter Murnane and Sam Land – calling themselves the Waihopai Ploughshares, sought to enflesh the scripture ideal of Isaiah 2/4. After extensive prayerful preparation, under cover of darkness, they entered the grounds of the Government Communications Security Bureau (GCSB) spy base at Waihopai, prayed for peace in the world and an end to warmongering, and deflated the dome covering one of the two antenna to highlight the role of the base in the ‘war on terror’. The spy base is part of the United States National Security Agency (NSA) network and, among other things, uses the ECHELON global communications interception system to intercept private and commercial communications.

The motive for the Crown finally dropping the damages claim is unclear. Perhaps, it being an election year, the government is particularly keen to avoid any further revelations about the GCSB? Or perhaps it is linked to one of the Waihopai Ploughshares’ legal arguments – that the civil claim for damages is not justified on public policy grounds due to the ex turpi causa defence, which means that a court may deny relief to a plaintiff (here the GCSB) whose cause of action is founded upon illegal activity? As events over the past two years show, the GCSB clearly has been acting illegally. 

Or perhaps it was, as Attorney-General Chris Finlayson said on RNZ, the three have no financial assets and it was ‘pointless to pursue them for a few farthings.’ That certainly is true – they have no redeemable assets.

Whatever the reasons, it is a brilliant result for the three who, collectively more than anyone else in recent times, have placed the spy-base under the public microscope. They have turned a beam onto the nefarious role it plays as part of the US military’s ‘Five Eyes Network,’ and its secret controllers at the NSA in Washington. They have shed a light, however briefly, into the darkness.

Jim Consedine

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