Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 10. 23rd May 1973
From the Courts
From the Courts
John Mountain Sutherland, sickness beneficiary, pleaded not guilty before Mr Scully S.M. on a charge of using obscene language.
The main witness for the prosecution slated that he had pulled up by a milkbar when another car had passed his, stopped and a person from that car had got out yelling "What the hell ya doing ya fuckin bastard". Witness was unable to recognise the user of the language anywhere in court.
The person who actually laid the charge was not the man to whom the language was addressed, but a local shopkeeper Frank Charles Muncy. Muncy testified that he had heard the language complained of, although he had not seen the defendant actually speaking at the time.
The defendant, Sutherland, stated that he had been driving down Warspite Avenue, Porirua when the car in front of him indicated that it was stopping. It then indicated a left turn, making him cross the white line and almost collide with a vehicle coming in the opposite direction. Sutherland stopped, got out and asked the offending driver if he was drunk. Sutherland testified at 'the same time' a hitchhiker passenger had used the obscene language and that Muncy had not appeared until after the incident. Sutherland also said that he and Muncy had had arguments on previous occasions.
This evidence was corroborated by Sutherland's mother and Mr David Fogarty, both passengers in the car with Sutherland and the hitchhiker. Fogarty stated that in his opinion the other driver was too drunk to be in charge of a vehicle. He also named the hitchhiker who had used the language complained of.
As is his custom, Mr Scully wasted not a word or a second in summing up the case. He said that there was no question that the language had been used and that it came from the general direction of the car.
Mr Muncy, said Scully, had no interest in the case and had recognised the defendent in court. He fined Sutherland $50 and $6.50 witnesses expenses.
It is interesting to note that Mr Scully's "disinterested" witness was the one who had actually laid the charge, and that he was not on friendly terms with the defendant. Three witnesses were discounted in Muncy's favour. We didn't hear why, but one presumes that it would have been a bit much to have called Mr Sutherland a liar. Nevertheless the effect was there, and the day was saved for the propertied and respectable. The Justice Department can probably find a use for a sickness beneficiary's $50 too.
Two recent cases in the Rama tenants dispute have been thrown out of court.
The main feature of both cases was the utter failure of Mr Buddie (Rama's lawyer) to elicit any coherent information from his client in the witness box. Giving evidence Rama stated that his flat at 168 Kings Crescent had been let to Mr Campbell at $30 a week. He claimed that Campbell had left without notice, $362 being outstanding. In the chaotic examination that followed Rama produced no proof that this sum was actually owing to him. He first stated that he and his son both kept the accounts. His second version was that his son had kept all the accounts himself.
Rama claimed not to have advertised the flat after Campbell had left, wherepon Mr Hart (acting for the tenants) produced a photocopy of a newspaper advertisement for the flat. Rama immediately claimed that this advertisement was the work of his son.
Rama seemed unable to decide whether it would be more advantageous to state that he worked in close collaboration with his son Bhika or not. He compromised by shifting his position and contradicting himself until it became clear that the process of unravelling the truth of his testimony would not be worth the effort involved.
Rama was not assisted in his efforts by his counsel Mr Buddie. Buddie was repeatedly told by the magistrate Mr Patterson S.M. to 'examine the witness properly' and to refrain from putting loaded questions to his witness. Both Rama and his son Bhika were prevented from trying to refer to documents which they had not written. Both men attempted to read such papers in the witness box. These documents were furnished by Mr Buddie, who was reproached for doing so by the magistrate. However although Mr Buddie was many times asked to carry out his duties in the proper manner the most surprising thing about the proceedings was the fact that Patterson allowed the farcical antics to continue for so long.
Finally, however Mr Patterson decided that the cases had not been properly prepared or put forward and were accordingly not worthy of consideration.
Rama Madhav has made a mistake not unknown to his class, that of lifting up a rock only to drop it on his own feet.
Amanda Russell Case
Another act in the continuing tragedy of white capitalist injustice took place in the Lower Hutt Magistrates Court on May 1. Amanda Russell of the Tenant's Protection Association was up for "assaulting" Peter Amarat Rama, son and agent of the famous rack renter Rama Madhav.
Assault meant the act of intentionally applying force to another, said the Magistrate Mr K.J. Patterson, and there was no doubt that this had been done. Mr Patterson was not interested in the context of the assault. It did not, for instance, occur to him that a slap of the same negligible force would have been quite fitting if Amanda had administered it at a party if Peter Annual was getting fresh. No, the slap had a political context: a man was protecting his property, from someone no better than a demonstrator.
Nor did it matter to the magistrate that Amanda Russell had been waving special proceedings notices in front of the truck which was carting tenant's furniture away under Rama's supervision. Amanda had been called to the scene by distressed, crying tenants, who understood nothing of what was going on except that Rama's bailiffs were bullying them. Amanda had legal advice that Rama could not seize striking tenants' goods while he had court actions pending against them, and she was trying to impress this upon the driver. Peter Amarat Rama came over to her and in a gloating, pushy tone asked her to move away. Rama later boasted that he had deliberately provoked Amanda in order to get her out of the way.
As it turned out, Amanda's legal advice was wrong and Rama's actions were sanctioned by law. In retrospect, it was foolish for a member of the Tenants' Protection Association to have imagined for a moment that tenants are protected by law — they aren't. The average lease is two pages of rules for tenants with a free hand and no stipulations for the landlord. The law books themselves are full of landlords laws and offer little hope for oppressed tenants.
Finally the court ground on to the Amanda Russell case. There was indeed no doubt that assault actually occurred, it was only the context and the attitude of Peter Amarat Rama that Amanda's lawyer dwelt upon. But Patterson was impassive. In his summing up he ranted on about 'people taking the law into their own hands'.
"You may feel that you were justified in taking the action you did, but I hasten to tell you, you were not." In Mr Patterson's opinion, Amanda could have taken a more effective stand, though he did not suggest what this might have been. He was concerned that such an obviously intelligent woman as he discerned Amanda to be "should stoop to physical violence". And he said he could not find the answer in the evidence presented. With a last touch of irony, he fined her $50 — he must have decided that although she was intelligent she might still learn from being found guilty and fined in his court.