Jonathan Milne

Jonathan Milne is a former reporter for the Herald on Sunday.

Rough gear does you no good

Kalyn Cole says people should not be penalised because they don't wear a suit.  Photo / Doug Sherring
Kalyn Cole says people should not be penalised because they don't wear a suit. Photo / Doug Sherring

Grumpy old Judge Russell Callander would be appalled at the flotsam and jetsam of humanity who congregate each morning outside the big glass entranceway of Auckland District Court, paving Albert St with cigarette butts.

He eventually meets these people, as many are bound for his courtroom. But, just perhaps, they tidy themselves up a bit before fronting up.

It's after 10am and a young man runs up the steps. He has no shoes on, just sports socks. He's late. He is lucky he isn't appearing before Callander, with his disdain for those who dress badly or have a "congenital inability to arrive on time".

Callander, born in Palmerston North in 1940, served as a District Court judge from 1978 until 1994, when he retired. From 2001 until this year he was a convenor of the Parole Board but stood in as a judge when others were on leave.

Late last year the Herald on Sunday reported that Callander was waging a lonely crusade from the bench to stop serious offenders being released back into the community.

At one sitting he sent four defendants back to the cells while making statements about the need to keep the public safe.

Callander said bail was granted too readily. "We are almost weekly now presented with ugly situations in court where violent offenders seek and obtain bail, only to return home to inflict either death or further grievous injury on the original complainant."

Outside the court, there are some who object to any implication that a judge might give a less sympathetic hearing to someone who presented badly.

Kalyn Coyle, a 25-year-old from West Auckland, emerges in a hoodie, the long sleeves covering tattoos. He has just been granted diversion for a first offence. "Last time when I applied for diversion I rocked up in no shoes," he laughs. "I don't know that the judge saw my feet. I think that many judges would look at people and judge them on their appearance."

He says people should not be penalised because they don't wear a suit, or (as Callander complains) chew gum. "People chew gum for all sorts of reasons, for nerves, because they're trying to quit smoking."

James Kaukau and his partner, Lina Leafa, both 31 and from Glen Innes, are at court to support a family member. "I don't think it should matter how you dress," Kaukau says. "It's not a fashion show." Leafa chips in: "There are more important things to think about when you're going to court than how you look."

Horotai Zimmerman, 45, was once in the Mongrel Mob, and has the tattoos to prove it. But he's not showing them to our photographer - or the judge. Twenty years on, he's a caregiver who's been charged with wilful damage. "I try to cover my tattoos when I'm in court, because I know the judge will see my tatts and think, 'There's another'. Discrimination is rife, especially in court." But he does have some sympathy for Callander's views: "I was just in the courtroom and there were a couple of obnoxious, abusive individuals up. They do play up."

Cara Cashmore, 26, has just accompanied her friend into the court to pick up some documents. "The person in the dock should be dressed smart, because they've got to give an impression, to prove whether they've guilty or not guilty. You don't turn up in flip-flops and shorts as if you're going on holiday."

To defence lawyer Kevin McDonald, who wears a crisp grey suit, Callander's position is entirely reasonable.

He says it's a mark of respect if people come to court dressed appropriately. "And as an aside, they would be doing themselves some favours if they dressed properly."

Is he saying a well-dressed defendant might get off more lightly than a scruffy one? He chooses his words carefully: "A defendant, witness or lawyer would be improving their chances of having their evidence or views accepted if they present themselves well and display courtesy."

- Herald on Sunday

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