Guilty will be quaking in boots - wet bus tickets really sting

By Kate Stewart

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JUDGMENT DAY: The scales of justice ... tricky to balance.PHOTO/FILE A-010808SPLSCALE
JUDGMENT DAY: The scales of justice ... tricky to balance.PHOTO/FILE A-010808SPLSCALE

Positions of power ...

Most of us in our lifetimes, even if just briefly, have probably wondered what it must be like to hold such a position.

I'm not talking low-level stuff like chief executives or prime ministers, I mean the real power ... the capability to determine the outcome of someone else's life. The kind of power that comes with being a judge.

I can only imagine what it must feel like to wake each morning and know that, once in that courtroom, after everyone has risen to acknowledge your presence and sat again - with your permission - you and you alone get to decide who is fit to walk free in society.

Imagine it - the power to punish at will, to know that your word really is law.

But who judges the judges and is it done often enough? Over the years, they have certainly come under some scrutiny in regards to issues such as bail conditions, particularly for violent offenders.

The old RSA case springs to mind as a classic example.

It must be hard to find that middle ground - firm but fair. Too harsh and you're accused of doing nothing to rehabilitate; too soft and you run the risk of exposing the public to great harm. The scales of justice can be more than a little tricky to balance.

As a reader of news I see more than my share of court reporting. I don't think I've ever thought to myself: "Crikey, that's a bit harsh." More often than not, I'm at the other end of the scale, muttering under my breath about how pathetic the sentencing was and I'm sure I'm not alone.

Recently, I read of two very different cases - same judge both times and their imposed penalties were, in my opinion, so light, I'm seriously considering moving to the Hawke's Bay and taking up as a career criminal, safe in the knowledge that I could get away with just about anything.

Now $90,000 is not exactly chicken feed - close enough to two years of the average wage. That was how much was knowingly defrauded by a mature gent, claiming a war pension even after his parents were both deceased.

His punishment? Six months' home detention, 100 hours of community service and the requirement to pay back the paltry sum of just $4500 because the judge recognised that he used it to benefit his family as opposed to lavishly misspending it.

Whatever way you look at it, it's a healthy bloody profit for the crim. Never mind the wet bus ticket when you can travel first class with $85,000 of ill-gotten gains. Move over and sign me up; maybe I can try looting, too.

As long as I just steal enough for me and the lifeforms, though - can't be greedy and steal surplus to on-sell.

Perhaps I could shoplift $500 worth of groceries and only pay back 10 per cent using this dangerous precedent. The new BTF, Benefit The Family defence.

Then just when you think you've read it all, a week later the same judge is making headlines for yet another soft sentence.

This time it was a raft of charges against a single mother. Caught at a checkpoint with three kids unrestrained in the car, two of whom were in non-compliant car seats.

But wait ... there's more. The vehicle had not been warranted since 2011 or registered since 2012 and the driver had been unlicensed since 2010. Not done yet, people - she also fled the scene and abused officers after they discovered three more kids in the boot.

This wasn't a quick trip to the dairy, she was making a long-distance journey. With exhaust fumes it could have been lethal.

Let's teach her a lesson with ... wait for it, 80 hours of community service. I'm surprised she didn't get awarded 80 hours of court-appointed childcare to help facilitate the community service demand.

I'm not saying we need to bring back the death penalty, or start selling boulders and bags of gravel for public stonings, but surely our people in power can do better than this. If this is the way of the world, then it appears that, sadly, crime does pay.

This time, I'll let you be the judge. You couldn't do a worse job. Court adjourned.

Pass your own sentence in the court of opinion via the Chronicle website or All rise.

Kate Stewart is an unemployed, reluctant mother of three, currently running amok in the city in judge's robes and wielding a gavel.

- Wanganui Chronicle

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