Mayor criticises home-detention sentence

By Sam Hurley, Anna Ferrick -
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said any abuse by a parent on a child was reprehensible. Photo / Paul Taylor
Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said any abuse by a parent on a child was reprehensible. Photo / Paul Taylor

Hastings' Mayor has criticized the sentence of a local man who broke his baby daughter's legs and was released from prison after little more than 12 months.

James Robert Hall, 21, was jailed in November 2012 for two years and five months following an appeal by the Solicitor-General against his original sentence of 12 months' home detention.

The home-detention sentence was handed down in August 2012 by Justice Mary Peters in the Napier High Court after Hall pleaded guilty to one charge of causing the 4-month-old girl grievous bodily harm with intent to injure and one of causing grievous bodily harm with reckless disregard for her safety.

The court was told Hall, when interviewed by police, admitted he had bent the child's leg back behind her neck, and at other times clutched her tightly.

Hall was released on parole on January 21 after serving slightly more than a year in prison.

The Parole Board found Hall posed a moderate to low risk of violent re-offending and said he had worked hard to address the issues which led to his offending, while not causing any problems in custody.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokeswoman Ruth Money said the whole case was "very, very sad".

"The initial sentence was absolutely pitiful, it was woeful. It was an absolute slap in the face. It's no wonder child-abuse statistics in this country are so embarrassing."

She said laws surrounding how much the Court of Appeal could increase the sentence meant Hall was never given an "appropriate" sentence for his offending.

"As much as we were happy that the Court of Appeal judges quashed the original sentence, it was never appropriate. You can't abuse children like that and be given two years."

Ms Money said she read the Parole Board decision and was worried about Hall's moderate to low risk of violent re-offending status.

Hall's parole conditions include no contact, directly or indirectly, with the victims of his offending without approval from his probation officer and he is also not permitted to have sole care of any child under the age of 5.

Family of the 4-month-old girl declined to comment about the case when approached by Hawke's Bay Today yesterday.

Hastings Mayor Lawrence Yule said any abuse by a parent on a child was reprehensible.

"The seriousness of the crime, the horrendous nature of it, for breaking a child's legs, it doesn't seem a little more than 12 months is a long-enough period to serve.

"There are huge expectations now from the [parole] board and the public for him not to re-offend and follow the rules of his parole, because the consequences on another victim and on himself would be severe."

Ms Money said although it was not uncommon for offenders to serve 50 per cent of their sentences the Trust is campaigning against the current parole system.

"That's not uncommon but do I like it? No. The Sensible Sentencing Trust believe in truth in sentencing. If a Judge sits in court and says in front of a victim and an offender four years prison, they should do four years in prison."

Ms Money said nothing will change unless the public and the judiciary step up and say "enough is enough".

The convener of the NZ Law Society Criminal Law Committee, Jonathan Krebs, said if an offender is sentenced to a term of imprisonment longer than two years he or she can apply for parole after serving a third of the sentence.

"They would then be released, on terms, into the community.

"Not everybody gets parole but if they do it would be because the reasons of the offending have been addressed. It happens all the time," Mr Krebs said.

Judges can impose minimum terms of imprisonment if they feel it necessary.

A Children's Commissioner spokeswoman said the commissioner's office did not comment on any court matter or investigation.

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