Wednesday, 6 April 2011

Foolscap, (fṓṓlskap) n 1. a hat worn by a judge

Back in the old days (when I were a lad), every village had one; and seldom too many more than one. But now we have lots of them and furthermore instead of them being the harmless object of a little teasing and amusement for the wider population they get paid a six figure salary to make important decisions concerning our safety.
What AM I talking about?
Those of you familiar with riddles might have already guessed I am referring to that legendary figure the Village Idiot.
Due to some gross error of population control we appear to have allowed these people to breed and hence the proliferation of cretins we see today. That in itself is worrying enough, but sadly it hasn’t ended there. Instead our administrative masters (for that’s what they believe themselves to be) have gone out into the wider community and tracked down as many of these fools as they can possibly find and made them into District Court Judges.
After that, I’d probably better not end up before one of them. However even if I do, I doubt I would have much to fear, because for them to know what I have said about them would mean they could actually read and have had some sort of contact with the outside world since they were liberated from their playpens.
So what has got this particular grumpy old man so worked up about District Court Judges this time?
Well, the case of Paulus Niewenhuiysen is as good a place as any to begin. This is the lowlife who has been charged with drugging and raping a woman while out on electronic bail after being charged with supplying ecstasy, methamphetamine and cocaine.
He was apparently given bail after being charged in 2009 and had to stay at the Waiwera Holiday Park, which seems a rather bizarre place of detention. Anyway it is alleged he drugged and raped a woman whom he had lured there in February 2010 and he was taken back into custody at that time. But by May the judge decided he obviously didn’t pose any risk to the community and he was once more released on electronic bail to some address in Auckland city.
Now all of that was bad enough and sadly I don’t have the name of the former village idiot who decided that one, but now we hear that another judge, Ailsa Duffy has allowed his bail conditions to be further relaxed so the poor lamb can get some exercise! He will be free to roam about, and I say free because clearly the electronic bail was insufficient to keep him under control last time, until September when he will finally face the charges.
Judge Duffy has dug herself into an even bigger hole of incomprehensibility by citing the mental health of the accused as the reason for her decision and suppressing the legal arguments including those of the Crown prosecutor who naturally opposed the idea.
With logic like that you have to wonder whose mental health we care about as a society. Is it that of the accused or the alleged victim?
I find it even more baffling that this decision should have come from a female member of the judiciary whom I would have expected to have more compassion for the victims of crime. Or was it that the victim’s line of work counted against her? (She was a prostitute).
It doesn’t sound like justice to me and I would be surprised if terribly many other New Zealanders would think so either.
What’s even more worrying is that Judge Duffy is only one of many District Court Judges in New Zealand who appear to have no contact at all with the outside world. You only have to spend a day in your local court watching proceedings to see what I mean. Drunk drivers with up to a dozen DIC convictions are regularly given non-custodial sentences allowing them to remain with arm’s reach of their constant temptations despite a sentencing directive many years ago to judges that such people should go to jail on their third such conviction.
We need a new method for appointing judges and they need to have some kind of accountability. As it stands they are virtually untouchable. When was the last time a judge was actually fired? There have been a few quite serious dishonesty offences committed by judges over the years, yet I cannot recall a single one who has actually been fired. The only one who came close was Robert Hesketh who actually resigned over allegations he claimed expenses to which he was not entitled. But poor Hesketh was a victim in a way because he was being tutored by Judge Martin Beattie who was charged with the same things, but for some extraordinary reason his plea that he didn’t realise he wasn’t entitled did not fall upon deaf ears as Hesketh’s had and he was acquitted. The Justice Minister at that time was Doug Graham and he asked Beattie to resign, but he refused. In one of those amazing coincidences that sometimes happen in life (but which have no possible bearing on the case); Doug was at law school with Beattie.
Despite that case and several others since it would appear we still do not have the power to remove judges. Sometimes I think they could get away with murder if they wanted.
It’s time our legislators grew some ‘nads and changed the law so we do have the power to remove judges who commit offences AND judges who don’t enforce the law in the way it was intended.

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