Editorial: Judges should raise bar with discharges

Higher threshold necessary for letting off drink drivers

Judges should never be denied discretion. When dealing with an offender whose circumstances mean the consequences of a conviction would far outweigh the gravity of the offence, there is room for lenience. It is clear, however, that discretion is being used too generously for some people given discharges for drink-driving.

Auckland lawyer Stuart Blake says he has obtained discharges for a woman who aspired to be an au pair overseas, a would-be firefighter and a mechanic who wanted to join the police. None of these examples clearly represents a compelling case for a discharge without a conviction. In each instance, the deserved penalty would not have been disproportionate to their drink-driving.

Their offence would be of legitimate interest to prospective employers in their intended areas of work, without being necessarily fatal to their prospects. Their conviction ought to have been recorded.

Judges are in similar territory on name suppression. Lawyers seek to convince them that the consequences of the identification of, say, a celebrity or a sportsperson would outweigh the seriousness of the offence. Too often they have accepted that claim too readily, when the principle of open justice is supposed to be uppermost.

After public criticism of name suppression in a number of high-profile cases the Court of Appeal issued sentencing guidelines that have fostered a more rigorous approach. It should not take so long for judges to set a consistently higher threshold for letting off drink-drivers.

- NZ Herald

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