Seeking Justice podcast

A pilot for a podcast series about justice for Radio New Zealand

About the project

The ultimate aim of this project is to create a regular programme on Radio New Zealand exploring justice issues. The programme will tell the stories of people who seek justice and reflect on what these stories tell us about the content and processes of law and ourselves.

The pilot is about the police’s “Mr Big” technique. This technique is an elaborate sting operation that recruits a (usually) murder suspect into a mock criminal organisation where all the members are undercover police who try to extract a confession.  

The podcast will focus on the most recent Mr Big case, involving David Lyttle, which goes to trial in September 2019. Lyttle confessed to murder during the sting, and explained where the body was. But it wasn’t there. Many parts of Lyttle’s confession are demonstrably wrong; other parts are consistent with the crime scene. It’s fascinating to ponder whether Lyttle committed the murder. But the main focus of the podcast will be questions such as:

  • Is the Mr Big technique fair? Are the courts right to conclude (in the absence of a body) that it produces evidence reliable enough to go before a jury?
  • Might the technique generate false confessions (bearing in mind that 25% of people exonerated by DNA evidence actually confessed to crimes)?  
  • The usual protections relating to police interrogations do not apply here. Is that sound?
  • Is it fair to create a situation where a defendant is forced to admit to willingly participating in crimes in order to make out a defence?
  • Juries invariably convict in these cases. Are they mesmerised by confessions? Research indicates that people (including judges and police) are not good at assessing truthfulness and are influenced by confessions – even those known to be coerced or inadmissible.
  • Many very serious criminals have been brought to justice using this technique. Does that mitigate the concerns about it? It may be a bit unfair, but criminals don’t play fair. Why should we hamstring police?

“I want to tell compelling stories about people’s search for justice – stories that move us, and help us understand something bigger about the justice system, about the meaning of justice, and about us.”
– Steven Price, lecturer, Victoria University of Wellington

Grant amount

$25,000 for work in 2018 and 2019

About Steven Price

Steven is a barrister, lecturer and freelance journalist. He teaches at Victoria University of Wellington’s law school. He has a law degree from Victoria University of Wellington and a Master of Journalism from UC Berkeley, where he studied on a Fulbright scholarship. He has acted for Nicky Hager, and in a range of media law cases before the courts and Broadcasting Standards Authority, and has substantial experience in broadcasting, including as the reporter and occasional host for TV7’s The Court Report and as a legal commentator on RNZ’s Nine to Noon.

Contact person

Steven Price

steven.price@vuw.ac.nz, 022 026 2997