By Bay of Plenty Times Court Reporter
A Tauranga-based judge has criticised one of New Zealand's top defence lawyers and threatened to hold his colleague in contempt of court.
Judge Thomas Ingram admonished Auckland barrister Barry Hart and his assistant, Anthony Trenwith, over the way they handled the sentencing of a man caught driving along Otumoetai Rd with dangerous firearms hidden inside his car.
The sentencing of Peter Fraser, a 53-year-old sharemilker from Rotorua, who was previously found guilty of two charges of unlawfully possessing and carrying firearms, was to have gone ahead in Tauranga District Court last Friday.
But his defence counsel, Mr Hart, failed to appear and sent a Tauranga court duty solicitor to represent him. Judge Ingram said that was totally unsatisfactory and stood the case down to give Mr Hart time to fly from Auckland to Tauranga.
But when court resumed on Friday afternoon, Mr Hart again failed to appear. Instead he sent Mr Trenwith to represent him, who urged Judge Ingram to give him more time to peruse Fraser's files.
Mr Trenwith said that, despite Mr Hart's best efforts, he had had extreme difficulties in getting the file from Fraser's previous defence counsel. It had only just been made available and therefore it would be unfair to proceed that day. Judge Ingram disagreed.
"Far from it. It was his [Fraser's ]decision to change lawyers to represent him at the sentencing hearing and Mr Hart should not have accepted instructions from Mr Fraser if he wasn't in a position to represent him today.
"There will be no adjournment. Mr Fraser will be dealt with today and you will have to decide to represent him or not represent him - that is your decision but there will be no adjournment," the lawyer was told.
Mr Trenwith continued to argue and asked Judge Ingram to indicate whether a custodial sentence was likely.
If not, he would be prepared to proceed on that basis, as the "risks to Mr Fraser were different".
The judge responded by saying: "You are bordering on contempt, Mr Trenwith, and it may be worth a complaint to the Law Society."
Judge Ingram then adjourned the case for 30 minutes to enable Mr Trenwith time to peruse Fraser's file.
Sentencing did eventually proceed and the court was told that at 2.40pm on June 25 Fraser was travelling in his car along Otumoetai Rd with some associates when the car was stopped by police because of a faulty brake light.
When Fraser opened the boot of his car to retrieve his driving licence a large steel box was spotted and Fraser admitted to the attending officer it contained an AR-15 semi-automatic rifle.
Police found his firearms licence had expired in September 2004. After searching the rest of the car, they also found a loaded sawnoff shotgun in a backpack hidden under the front passenger's seat, which had been modified to have no safety catch.
Fraser, who told police it wasn't his, was sentenced to 100 hours' community work on both charges.