Thursday, March 23, 2006

Garth George: The law goes strangely soft on Labour's lame excuses

It is often said that the law is an ass, and it seems that it is becoming a bigger and bigger ass.

Although, on reflection, it isn't so much the law that is the ass, but the people who dream up and draft the law. Plus, these days, the people charged with administering it.

Such as the plod with scrambled egg on his hat who justified the decision of the police not to prosecute the Labour Party for breaches of the Electoral Act relating to pledge cards and pamphlets and overspending; and the judge who awarded a paedophile $25,000 because the poor chap's privacy had been ruled to have been invaded.

The explanation from Acting Deputy Commissioner Roger Carson of the Labour Party decision on pledge cards and pamphlets had me choking with laughter.

He said the party was given a warning rather than prosecuted - in spite of police having established a prima facie case - because a number of other parties had also used similar tactics and it would have been unfair to single Labour out.

So next time I get stopped for speeding I'm going to insist on being given a warning, on the grounds that a lot of other people are speeding and it would be unfair to single me out.

Mr Carson also said the offending resulted from a general misunderstanding of the electoral rules. Surely that's a new departure because I have all my life been led to believe that ignorance of the law is no excuse for breaking it.

So if I ever get stopped for speeding on a road outside a school, perhaps I can claim that I misunderstood what I had heard and read of the new speed limit and thought it applied only on the school grounds.

On the matter of Labour's alleged overspending, the police found there was insufficient evidence to prosecute because there was no evidence it had been intentional.

Which gives me another string to my bow when dealing with the policeman who stops me for speeding. I will insist that there is insufficient evidence to write me a ticket because my being over the speed limit was not intentional.

And if the policeman cavils at my excuses, then all I have to do is suggest to him that he contact Acting Deputy Commissioner Carson, who will set him straight on this new policy on dealing with offenders who are just one among many who misunderstand the rules and whose offending is not intentional.

It doesn't help, of course, that this is the third time the police have declined to prosecute after establishing prima facie cases involving the Labour Party.

Now I don't give a damn whether Helen Clark signed a painting she didn't do, or whether David Benson-Pope shoved a tennis ball in the gob of some loud-mouthed lout, but what I do care about is that if prima facie cases are established, the courts are the place for these matters to be decided, not police headquarters.

There was a time when politics and the police force were clearly and carefully kept separate; somehow I doubt that is the case today. And if it isn't, then one has to ponder the historical fact that one of the hallmarks of a police state is that ruling politicians control the police and are above the law.

Not that the courts are all that much chop these days, particularly the District Court.

The judge who awarded the paedophile $25,000 after finding that his privacy had been invaded when police alerted people in his neighbourhood to his presence is just the latest to lower the esteem in which the court system is held.

The decision goes so far beyond the bounds of common sense and decency that it is almost impossible to understand. Yet that is happening more and more often of late, to the extent that the public's confidence in the courts is at an all-time low.

Which is a far cry from my days as a court reporter when magistrates were regarded with a respect verging on that given to the royal family; and Supreme Court justices accorded a respect just one step down from that given to God.

In general, they deserved it - and that included the often rude and invariably irascible Supreme Court justice who was based in Dunedin and who sat from time to time in Invercargill, arriving in his own exclusive carriage attached to the Dunedin-Invercargill express because he refused to have anything to do with those new-fangled flying machines. His name escapes me after all these years.

It is ironic, isn't it, that when the police do take a protective stance for the public good, they are shot down in flames by the court?

This paedophile, with not just one but a string of convictions, had been allowed to live near schools, playgrounds, a playcentre and reasonably dense bush. It goes without saying that that should never have been allowed to happen in the first place.

As the policeman responsible, Inspector Peter Cowan, said: "I was very concerned that his location was totally inappropriate, and I could not understand why he had been put there."

Well, Mr Cowan is certainly not alone in that - and there is no doubt in my mind that he did the right thing, irrespective of what some judge might think. I just hope the police appeal.

The paedophile's lawyer told reporters: "The aftermath of the leaflet drop resulted in great hardship to him both physically and mentally. To this day he is recognised and abused on the streets by strangers."

Sorry, but I just can't raise any sympathy.


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