Editorial: Judge had no choice

By Craig Cooper

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Tikanga Maori should be respected and acknowledged within New Zealand's court system.

But Judge Russell Callander was right to ignore a penalty imposed by a Northland hapu upon four drug offenders, when he was considering how to punish the men in the Whangarei District Court this week.

Judge Callander jailed the men on Tuesday, after the hapu penalty - two years' "hapu service" - imposed earlier had been offered by the men as mitigation. The penalty was ignored, but the men's remorse expressed before the hapu was not.

The four men were advocates of Maori sovereignty and had declined legal representation at their trial. In hindsight, they cut off their collective noses to spite their faces. They were found guilty, and when they were sentenced on Tuesday, some heavy-hitting but ultimately powerless support was in the public gallery.

It was a potentially awkward situation for National Party MP Tau Henare, who was in court to support his nephew Maihi Paraone, 27, and to ask the judge for leniency.

Awkward because Mr Henare's party has taken a hard line on drug offending, and does not advocate leniency when it comes to jail sentences for drug offenders.

There were hints in court of Mr Henare's concern that his nephew had been influenced by the other offenders. Unfortunately, the judge's hands around his sentencing gavel were tied by the fact Paraone was convicted of possessing a large quantity of cannabis for supply. While the whanau might have considered their argument sound, the lack of compelling legal argument meant jail was the only option.

- Northern Advocate

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