Crown Solicitor opens up on guilt he feels being a part of system that has landed against Māori

By Hikurangi Jackson

Brian Dickey is among this country's top criminal prosecutors and a partner with litigation firm Meredith Connell. It’s not a role for the faint-hearted but asked how he coped with being exposed to gruesome and heartbreaking stories, Dickey said he reminded himself that “it didn’t happen to me, my family".

He also does his best not to dehumanise defendants - acknowledging that for many, they were shaped by "the hand they were dealt with".

"I grew up in a courtroom in many ways. I left university at 22. I did my first High Court jury trial when I was 23 and I've been in the courts every year since. So my heart rate doesn't change when I walk into a courtroom in the sense that it's just where I work. It's just what I do."

Brian Dickey was only 23 when he led his first high court jury trial. Source: File

'Some cases you never quite shake'

Dickey has been front and centre of some of the biggest murder trials in recent times including the murders of police constable Matthew Hunt and English tourist Grace Millane.

“Some cases you never quite shake, like the Grace Millane murder, the Jesse Kempson case. There was a lot of CCTV footage on the night. And then, after her death, there was a lot of evidence about what the defendant did to her and, you know, the purchasing of the suitcase.

"[Beyond that] I had a very strong impression of who she was and how loved she was by her family because she was in such regular contact with them. And the family came out for the trial, the father and the mother did. They had no one else in New Zealand. So they were tightly connected to the police team that was involved in the prosecution of that case.

Dickey has been front and centre of some of the biggest murder trials in recent times including the murder English tourist Grace Millane. Source: FIle

Young women came to watch

"Just the events surrounding that case make it very prominent. I doubt I'll shake that in the hurry. I have a very clear impression of her in my mind.”

During the trial, there was a lot of chatter about Millane on social media. That didn’t go unnoticed.

"I was made aware of some ill-informed, frankly, misogynistic sort of commentary in social media about the Grace Millane case. And look, that's disappointing. I don't think the majority of it was that way. I think most of it was pretty supportive.

"One of the things that was really interesting about Grace’s trial was there were quite a number of young women, teenage women, who came to court each day to watch. It was as if they themselves were very affected by the case. Grace didn't cause her own death. That's just not what happened. She was an entirely innocent party to what happened to her.”

No point in dehumanising them

When Dickey drives around Auckland, he is often transported back in his mind to some of the trials he has been a part of.

"When I hear of a gang shooting, I immediately think of Matthew Hunt. When I drive around Auckland, I kind of see it as a sort of a map of crime scenes that I'm not nostalgic about. I don't find them triggering in that they don’t make me feel sad or anything.

"But, I think, that's where someone was killed. Or I know a terrible thing happened there. It's hard to avoid because places are usually so significant in terms of explaining the crimes that occur."

Dickey is passionately committed to treating defendants as human during the trial process, no matter what their crime.

“They’re real people who have done bad things. Some of them have done too many bad things and the public ought to be kept safe from them but there's no point in dehumanising them.

Brian Dickey is Ngāti Māhanga on his father's side and Dalmatian on his mothers' side. Source: FIle

'I look white'

"And I think to call someone a monster is an easy cop-out for society because 'monster' suggests they're quite different from everybody else. They're not quite different from everybody else.

"A lot of defendants are in the position they're in because of the hand they've been dealt, which they may not have managed very well. There's always the opportunity to do the right thing and not to hurt another person."

Dickey has Ngāti Māhanga whakapapa on his father’s side and is the first and only Māori to take the Crown solicitor role in Auckland. He is still navigating his way through te ao Māori.

"I am somewhat uncomfortable about my identity and being Māori. Dad was always proud to be Maori but he didn't express himself as being Māori and, you know, I'm white. I look white and I've suffered none of the negative consequences of being Māori in this country that others have had. So there is an awkwardness in me saying I'm Māori because what does that really mean?

"I'd been to the marae when I was a little kid with an uncle. I do feel good about being a part of that. But then I feel guilty about other aspects of it. I feel a part of a system that seems to have landed predominantly against Māori and that does make you feel guilty about it.

This will be Dickey's final year at Meredith Connell and as the Auckland Crown Solicitor. Source: File

'That's colonisation'

"It'd be good for people like me, who are part Māori or Māori to stand up for that. It makes the point that there's nothing about Māori that fundamentally internally causes them to present in the crime statistics. That's societal. That's systemic. That's colonisation."

Later this year Dickey will step down from his role as Auckland Crown Solicitor and leave Meredith Connell.

"I've loved every minute of what I've done but it does take a toll. Every day I make decisions on cases involving serious criminal activity. And often the decision is not to proceed with a case. And that's hard because that case will never go to trial. That victim will never see justice in their mind. So it takes a toll over time.

"Also, it's just a good time for me in my career to go off and do something different, safe in the knowledge that the organisation is in good hands on the right path and direction."

Watch the full interview with Brian Dickey on Te Ao with Moana (Whakaata Māori on Demand)