Editorial: Judge's shock at outburst perplexing

By Andrew Austin

Brent and Mona Dudley say they have been denied justice. Photo / Richard Robinson
Brent and Mona Dudley say they have been denied justice. Photo / Richard Robinson

Who would not have been moved by the emotional outburst of distraught father Brent Dudley in an Auckland courtroom this week?

For those of you who are not up to speed with what I am talking about, Mr Dudley is the father of Stephen Dudley, who died in June last year after an assault by two boys, then aged 15 and 17, following a rugby practice.

The 17-year-old saw a fight involving Stephen Dudley and the other boy and ran over and punched Stephen in the neck before continuing the attack while he was on the ground. Stephen was rushed to hospital where he died a short while later. Medical examinations showed an undiagnosed heart condition contributed to his death.

In the High Court at Auckland Justice Helen Winkelmann granted the teen - who has permanent name suppression and earlier pleaded guilty to an amended charge of assault with intent to injure - a discharge without conviction.

Mr Dudley was unable to contain himself at this stage and reacted in disbelief.

Let me hasten to add that in no way do I condone anyone disrespecting any judicial officer in a court of law. On the whole, justice is served in this country and our democracy grants our judiciary independence. I firmly believe that the judicial process is important to uphold the laws of the land.

However, it must have been hard for the father, who was still grieving the loss of his beloved boy, to hear that the person he held responsible for the death and who had actually pleaded guilty, would walk free.

Cameras were allowed in court and although we did not see Mr Dudley when he made his outburst, you could clearly hear what he was saying.

What we did see was Justice Winkelmann's startled reaction to the outburst. She seemed genuinely shocked that someone had shouted out in court. You could see her trying to comprehend why he would have done such a thing.

We often hear from readers and members of the public who believe that our judiciary is sometimes out of touch with reality. Now, I know that judges are learned people who reach their position because they can analyse cases and reach a fair conclusion without allowing emotion to cloud their judgment.

However, the frequent refrain - fairly or unfairly - from the public is that victims and their families' feelings are not taken into account when sentences are handed down.

Sentences, or non-sentences like this one, do not do much to change the public's view of the judiciary.

A judge's apparent lack of understanding about why a grieving father would call out in despair in her courtroom will probably entrench that view in some quarters.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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