Rachel Smalley: Lock up or let off young rugby player?

Losi Filipo was discharged without conviction. Photo / Getty Images
Losi Filipo was discharged without conviction. Photo / Getty Images

You're 21 years old. You're poised, you believe to sign a rugby contract with the Wellington Lions.

But one night, in central Wellington, you're beaten up. You're punched. You're bashed around the head. And then when you hit the pavement, the man who's assaulting you starts stomping on your head.

You're lying there. The woman who's with you believes you're dead. Your doctor will later tell you that you'll never play rugby again, and you won't work for eight months. You still suffer migraines and chronic fatigue.

Then the man who's just carried out this assault, turns on the woman. He starts punching her, smashing her in the throat. She is a singer. Her doctor will tell her she may never sing again.

Then he turns to another woman and punches her in the face. She falls to the ground. Blood was pouring out everywhere, she said. She was hyperventilating. She is a model and now requires plastic surgery.

Next he turns to a fourth person. A man. And he and his brother take turns to hold the man, while the other punches him in the face and body.

The scene is one of absolute chaos. There's blood everywhere, yelling, one man lying on the ground who to everyone else appears dead.

And who is the man who's inflicting this violent assault?

His name is Losi Filipo. He's 18 years old -- and a young rugby player who's contracted with the Wellington Rugby Union.

Police charged him with assault with intent to injure, with two counts of male assaults female, and injuries with intent to injure.

Those crimes can carry prison sentences.

The judge said if he was to follow conventional sentencing, then he would start from a position of 18 months in prison.

But the judge didn't follow a conventional sentencing.

Instead, he released Filipo without conviction.

And this is what the judge said.

"I have to ask myself are the courts in the business of destroying people's career prospects?"

The judge felt that a prison sentence would serve no purpose, and it would be in Filipo's long-term interests to be allowed to continue his playing career. A prison sentence would cut that career short.

It's an extraordinary case, isn't it? Polarising.

But if it's possible to take the emotion out of this, it's clear what the judge is trying to do here.

If you put Losi Filipo in prison, that will change the course of his life. His career prospects will be limited. His rugby career will end the moment he walks into jail. If he spends time behind bars, that will possibly fast-track him into a life of crime. Violent crime, too. If, however, he enters the New Zealand rugby system, then he'll be offered an umbrella that will provide structure, guidance, and discipline. And a chance to right the wrongs of his teens.

I'm not suggesting that's right, but I can understand this judge's position on this.

But if you're one of the four who were assaulted, what does justice look like to you right now?

And in particular, to the young man who's playing career has been cut short? That young man who has only just started working again and who continues to suffer migraines and chronic fatigue. Life is pretty miserable, for him.

So where do you sit on this? Do you place Losi Filipo in an environment where potentially he can turn his life around. Or do you bang him up in jail, ending his career prospects, and then potentially watch him spend the next 60 years of his life bouncing in and out of our justice system at enormous cost to the country and the taxpayer?

What's your take?

Rachel Smalley hosts Early Edition on Newstalk ZB

- Newstalk ZB

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