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Salient. Victoria University Students Newspaper. Volume 38 Number 8. 1975

From the Courts

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From the Courts

Photo of the outside of the magistrates court

A good illustration was seen this week of the benefits of having a lawyer to plead one's case.

Two men were charged with assulting their de facto wives. The first, a Polynesian, had no counsel, pleaded guilty, said nothing in his own defence and was summarily dealt with and fined $200. The second, a pakeha incidentally, had a lawyer who was able to say how apologetic the defendant had been afterwards and how on the night in question he had been very tired from working lots of overtime so that he could make money so that they could get married, buy a section and 'settle down'. He was subsequently convicted and ordered to come up for sentence in six months, comparatively let off.

This illustrates how the system works for you if you play the game according to the rules, as on the facts there was nothing to distinguish these two cases, both were fairly serious assults.

• • •

On the other side of the coin, however, I saw a case where legal representation appeared to prejudice the defendant's case.

Earlier a man had been charged with being idle and disorderly, said he didn't want legal representation, pleaded guilty and being such a petty offence was discharged under Section 42. Later, two girls were similarly charged with being I and D, saw the duty solicitor, who asked for a week's remand without plea for legal aid and a probation report. Having no money or [unclear: surely], they were refused bail and remanded to Arohata for a week.

This wasn't really the fault of having a lawyer, more a fault of the bail system which discriminates against people with no money or without friends with money. This probably influences people who plead guilty to get things over and done with. Perhaps the first guy, who had previous convictions knew the the story and could see the irony of having a lawyer who would provide him with 'justice'.

• • •

Another part of the problem is the stupid Idle and Disorderly law itself. Historically, it's a remnant of post-mediaeval times after the popluation was depleted by the Black Plague causing labour shortages and urban drift with an associated breakdown of the feudal system and a lessening hold of the ruling classes over the peasants.

Today the law is supposed to have a protective type of function, to rescue people from the wayward side of life, but in reality, it is often used by the police as a holding charge to rake in suspects, and often it works to bring people with no money into the court machinery, thus labelling them devient. Mind you, its not all people with no money that get charged, only people like the unemployed builder's labourer who hasn't been able to find a job for nine months and has just come down from Auckland to Wellington with no-where to stay like the one before Mr. Bradford S.M. this week. I'm sure that a university student wouldn't get charged, no matter how low their finances were, so that this type of law discriminates both socially as well as economically.

• • •

It seems perhaps, that students are indeed a somewhat privileged class.

A second-year arts student who crashed his car on Salamanca Rd., injuring himself and his passenger more severely after drinking was fined $30 on a charge of dangerous driving. Mr. Hobbs S.M. said he was imposing a somewhat lower fine than usual because of the defendant's financial position, which was fair enough. However, half an hour later a Polynesian from Porirua was fined $75 for the same offence except no-one was injured. Admittedly this man had a full-time job from which he averaged $63 a week, but he also had a wife and three children plus another illegitimate child which he paid $10 a week maintenance for, so financial obligations would be quite high. Furthermore the student had at the time of the accident been working as a steward on the inter-island ferry so he can't have been that destitute, he at least bad a suit which is more than the Polynesian had and I would suggest that the courts gave him a much better deal.

• • •

It seems that once you get jumped on it's very hard to get back up again. A man who had just got out of jail after eighteen months was celebrating his release in a public bar and was arrested for obscene language while in an advanced state of intoxication. Being so drunk he couldn't rember the occasion and didn't know how to plead. This afforded Mr. Hobbs S.M. a classic opportunity for some plea bargaining.

Mr. Hobbs: Would it make any difference to the way you pleaded if I was to convict and discharge you?

Defendant: I suppose so.

Mr. Hobbs: How do you plead then?

Defendant: Guilty!

Mr. Hobbs: Convicted and discharged.