Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Vol. 36, No 11 May 30th, 1973
From the Courts
From the Courts
A significant confrontation occurred in the Magistrate's Court recently between Mr Trapski S.M. and counsel for William Alexander Hall, Mr Cleary. Hall had been accused of escaping from Porirua Hospital, where he had been committed under the Alcohol and Drug Addiction Act. Mr Cleary pointed out that as police evidence had stated, Hall had left the confines of the hospital grounds and returned shortly afterwards with two bottles of beer, which he had purchased in the Porirua shopping area. This did not amount to a full scale escape said Mr Cleary. He was about to offer further submissions when he was interupted. "I don't take that view," said Mr Trapski.
"Two bottles of beer are hardly enough to cause the downfall of others," replied the lawyer.
"I don't take that view," repeated Trapski. "I have access to better information than you. I understand that the defendant had more than two bottles of liquor."
Mr Cleary reminded Mr Trapski that a magistrate was bound to confine himself to the police summary. Mr Trapski denied this, wherepon Mr Cleary reaffirmed that the court should work from the facts presented. He said that his client had been in prison for two weeks and should be returned to Porirua. "If Porirua will have him," said Mr Trapski. The matter was finally adjourned to be dealt with in chambers.
Mr Cleary had good reason to suggest that the offence was minor and that his client should be removed from prison. The defendant had not escaped (no matter how much liquor he may have brought with his small allowance). He was also no less than seventy years old!! Mr Cleary later informed me that he "could have stood on his dignity and demanded that Trapski work from the police summary, and then appealed, but that would have been tough on the old guy," (who would have had to stay in prison during these additional legal proceedings.)
Mr Trapski's behaviour is quite consistent with his position as a judge in a commodity society. In such a society men and women are dealt with by their rulers according to their capacity to produce. The elderly and incapacitated are "worthless" to capitalism and are tolerated as a nuisance; bound to behave themselves at all times or be locked up, irespective of their state of health, age or aspirations.
Judge Warns of Threat from Youth
An interesting talk was given by the guest speaker. Sir Thaddeus McCarthy, at a recent dinner marking the presentation of the inaugural Philip Morris Filly of the year award. As the incoming president of the Court of Appeal, Sir Thaddeus took time out from discussing the sport of kings to made a few comments on the law.
Some of these remarks were printed on the front page of the "Dominion"—presumably for the amusement of those among its readers who have had some experience of class justice in New Zealand.
"Our institutions are under attack by restless youth and a dissatisfied intelligensia... now the courts are in the firing line." There were those, he said, who demanded harsher penalties in the face of a growing incidence of violence. At the other end of the spectrum there are those who reject all concepts of guilt and moral responsibility, who say there are no such things, and see all punishment as evil. Neither of these extremes, the social historian will demonstrate to you can possibly be accepted, he said.
Sir Thaddeus is quite correct when he pointed out that some critics of the law are demanding harsher penalties. Every week half literate letters to the quarter literate newspaper "Truth" call for the reintroduction of such penalties as hanging, flogging and similar barbarities. These letters are encouraged more by the articles in the paper which carries them and the other bourgeois weeklies and dalies than by actual experience of violent crime. Many of the Truth letter writer law reformers have also been spurred on by their efforts by the politicans who govern us e.g. Norman-take-their-bikes-off-them Kirk, and that grand old champion of capital punishment Jack Marshall. Our incoming President of the Court of Appeal is less accurate when he refers to the "other end of the spectrum" — the rejections of all concepts of guilt, moral responsibility and punishment. By depicting all progressive critics of the law as impractical anarchic uptopians Sir Thaddeus cunningly lets the law off several embarrassing hooks and distorts the aims and activities of a great many groups and individuals.
Nga Tamatoa, the Nelson Race Relation action group, the New Zealand Race Relations Council, and many other National organisations have criticised the institutional white racism of our law and court structure severly. They point out that Maoris and Islanders' cultural backgrounds, frequent unfamiliarity with the English language and usual working class status severly disadvantage them before the bench.
They are still waiting for the answer to their criticisms that the legal system dare not give — that the laws of our country are thoroughly racist and give every impression of intending to remain so.
Similarly the Divorce Law Reform Association, Homosexual Law Reform Society and the Abortion Law Reform Association of New Zealand have challenged the law and its interpretation. The Communist Party has consistently charged the system of justice with being a system run primarily for the benefit of one minority class in our society, offering reasoned argument to support this point of view.
None of these "restless youths" and "dissatisfied intelligensia" have challenged the courts without preparing considerable evidence to support their various charges. Nevertheless Sir Thaddeus is content to lump all shades of opinion together as being equally inaccurate and extreme. This tactic is not only insulting, it is quite transparent, in fact, it is a further indication that the courts and legal system have more to answer for than people like Sir Thaddeus would care to admit.
There is something very familiar about the analysis of Sir Thaddeus. It is the old, old message from Olympus that "although things are not perfect we must pull together, respect the leaders and not rock the boat." The Dominion article confirms this heavy handed homily with a remark by Sir Thaddeus that some selfish people only wish to recognise laws which suit them and disregard those which do not. This phenomenom he claims is "something which if not arrested can destroy a democratic society."
Like other McCarthys we have known Sir Thaddeus falsely assumes that our society is democratic in the first place, and that everybody is genuinely equal before the law.