Thursday, June 16, 2011

King's College and Alcohol

King’s College has had its fourth student death in 18 months.

Four dead students is an inexcusable disgrace. Once again the school fails to show leadership in its handling of its alcohol issues. Blame is deflected by the school on to parents, and society in general. They fail to acknowledge that the death rate at King’s is exceptional when compared to other New Zealand schools.

Last year, following an alcohol overdose death of a King’s student, some of King’s richest parents tried hard to find ways to give their underage children alcohol in connection with the school ball. King’s headmaster's pathetic response was “I really can't answer for what people are trying to do”.

This year a prominent business man, Craig Norgate, arranged a pre ball drinking gathering for many King’s students. The dead boy died just hours after attending the Norgate function. There were reports of students getting drunk at Norgate’s function and of widespread drunken, drugged behaviour at the ball. Despite the ball being a school event, and knowing that there were drunken children at the ball, it seems that the school took far too little responsibility for those in its care. After the death, the chairman of the King’s board tried to minimise the school’s responsibility: "Schools clearly can't be 24-hour babysitters of their students".

It appears that some King’s parents encourage their children to believe that it is not possible to enjoy social events without the presence of large quantities of alcohol.  If parents in poor areas showed such poor judgment, society would brand their actions as child abuse.

With parental encouragement of drinking, and a school that does not provide proper leadership in this area, what chance do vulnerable students have?

Wednesday, March 31, 2010

Three strikes bill will promote violence

The Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill ("Three Strikes Bill") is designed to imprison offenders for the maximum sentence for their crime on the third conviction, for any of a wide variety of offences. If murder is the third offence, the punishment will be life imprisonment with no parole. For manslaughter, a minimum term of  imprisonment of 20 years will be imposed.

Serious sentences for serious crimes are a good idea, however, we need to ensure that in making legislative changes we are doing so for the right reasons and that the changes proposed will lead to the desired result. Let's not pretend, for example, that the three strikes law will act as a deterrent to crime. It is accepted that it will not. Overseas experience with similar three strikes laws is that it makes offenders more violent. An increase in violent crime in California of 9% has been noted as the result of their three strikes law. It is easy to see why this would be the case if you put yourself in the  shoes of a violent criminal. If the criminal is already facing a life sentence for one violent offence (on the third strike) there is no disadvantage to them in increasing the number of crimes committed at that time as the additional crimes will probably be "free". In addition, committing crimes that lessen the risk of detection will improve the criminal's chance of escaping punishment with no additional downside if they are caught. For example, a bank robber who accidentally kills a teller might be motivated to kill everyone in the bank as the additional murders will attract no additional punishment and will remove witnesses.

Manslaughter is another problematic area. Some types of manslaughter are almost as bad as murder and they should be punished on the same basis as murder. Other types of manslaughter are at the accidental end of the scale where something has gone horribly and unintentionally wrong. Such offenders are unlikely to be repeat criminals and punishing them harshly serves little purpose. The three strikes law makes no distinction between types of manslaughter.

Time limits are also an issue. Take for example a young offender who accumulates two strikes from youthful offending involving fight related violence or from discharging a firearm unwisely. Those strikes will stay on that person's record forevermore in most circumstances. That person could lead a blameless adult life and then commit an offence years later that should not attract overly harsh punishment - for example another firearms offence or a manslaughter at the lower end of the scale. Under the three strikes law this person would receive a sentence of a minimum of 20 years if they committed manslaughter, even though they had led a blameless adult life.

Firm sentencing does have a role to play, as it keeps serious criminals away from the public, at the very least. However, most criminals are released at some stage and they have to live somewhere. Wouldn't it be better for society to invest real funds into rehabilitating those who want it so that there is a chance of  a better future? If it is deterrence we want, the three strikes law is not the answer, and we should instead use resources on creating certainty of apprehension and conviction. New Zealand, with its resolution rates for some categories of crimes being around 20%, has a long way to go.

Monday, March 29, 2010

NZ Law Society fails to promote the rule of law

It is reported that lawyer Chris Comeskey has been charged with professional misconduct for daring to criticise judicial processes. Comeskey's "guilt" appears to have been predetermined with the chairman of the Law Society, John Marshall, decreeing that Comeskey's comments were "not appropriate".

Section 14 of the New Zealand Bill of Rights Act provides that "everyone has the right to freedom of expression, including the freedom to seek, receive, and impart information and opinions of any kind in any form."

Freedom of expression and transparency are factors that underlie the concepts of natural justice and the rule of law. Judges are human like everyone else. They make mistakes and inevitably some of them will be unsuited for their role. Lawyers are better placed than most to bring relevant matters to the attention of the public. Criticism of judges may improve the judicial system and also places matters fairly in the public domain. It is abhorrent that the Law Society seeks to chill the freedom of speech by punishing lawyers. Let's not return to the days of Star Chamber.

Friday, March 26, 2010

The Law is an Ass

The role of the Courts is to uphold the rule of law. That job will be easier, and respect will more easily accrue to legal decision makers, if the law is applied in a consistent and fair manner. Fail to do so and disrespect for the law creeps in, resulting in a slow slide towards anarchy. It also casts doubt on New Zealand's credibility in criticising the short comings of the justice systems of other countries.

It is generally thought that crimes against the person are more serious than crimes against property. This aspect of the social contract is not upheld by the Courts. We have seen that the systemic failure to properly prosecute drink/drive killers  for manslaughter leads to these killers receiving sentences of between 6-18 months for taking a life.

Child pornography is another category of offending that is treated as a joke. Child pornography records the sexual abuse of vulnerable small children. By viewing such material, the viewer is directly encouraging child rape and may engage in such acts themselves. Anything other than a lengthy jail term is an inappropriate punishment. Unfortunately our judicial system treats these serious offences with the levity also shown to drink drive offences. Today it is reported that a man who possessed thousands of images of child pornography, including of a three-year-old girl being raped, and where there were aggravating factors, has not been sentenced to prison.

Kill someone when you are drunk and you might only go to jail for 6 months. Support the systemic sexual abuse of small children and you probably don't have to worry about going to jail. There are many other crimes against the person where examples of lenient sentences could be given. In contrast, if you defraud you can expect a  long prison term, with the length depending on who you are, not what you have done.

Taito Phillip Field was jailed for 6 years on bribery and corruption charges that related to his use of cheap labour in exchange for assisting the labourers with their immigration applications. The labourer involved planned to sue Field for $200,000 so we can assume that this is the maximum monetary value involved. What Field did was wrong, but aspects of that wrongness are not so different from some of the abuses by Members of Parliament that go unpunished. Field's sentence was also grossly disproportionately heavy in comparison to that of Stephen Versalko who stole nearly $18 million and who also received a 6 year jail sentence. In contrast, sports' celebrity Brent Todd received only home detention for stealing $2 million.

If New Zealand wants to retain its status as supposedly the least corrupt nation, build respect for the law, and maintain its ability to fairly criticise other countries for their failings, action needs to be taken.

Tuesday, March 23, 2010

Tony Blair and the Middle East peace process

The search for a humane, peaceful solution to the conflict between Israel and Palestine is an ongoing one. The stakes are higher than before with the increasing tension between Israel and Iran.

The prospect of the latest mission securing a lasting outcome seems unlikely given Prime Minister Netanyahu's announcement of  the building of 1,600 new Israeli homes in disputed territory. Not only was the timing of this announcement bad (during US Vice President Biden's visit to Israel) it increases Palestinian grievances making a successful peace process less likely and boosting the cause of extremists.

Tony Blair the former British Prime Minister is the "peace" envoy for the Middle East Quartet (UN, Russia, EU and the US). This is the same Tony Blair who through lies and deceit facilitated the illegal invasion of Iraq, leading to over a million violent deaths and a country in disarray. Blair has failed to criticise the Israeli housing decision.

What is Blair's real purpose for being in the Middle East? He is a tainted partisan and has no credibility with many of the key parties that will need to be brought to any negotiating table. He is the most hated man in the Middle East. Lucky then for Blair that his financial well being doesn't depend on this crucial work. After all, he has earnt £20 million since 2007, including a lucrative deal with a multinational oil giant which has extensive interests in Iraq. Can it be a coincidence that Blair's friend George Bush made plans to invade Iraq and take its oil, well before the 9/11 attacks?

If Israel and the West really want peace a new emphasis is needed.

Monday, March 15, 2010

New Zealand Police demand respect

The New Zealand Herald reports that the Police are unhappy with a lack of respect. In order to force the respect that the Police feel is their due, the Police Association's Greg O'Connor says that the Courts should enforce trivial offending against the Police (for example low level insults). Prime Minister John Key says that offences against Police should be treated more seriously than offences against other members of the public.

The Police have played a substantial role in the lack of respect afforded to them by sections of the public. Many examples could be given, but these are just a few:
  • Brutality during the Springbok tour.
  • Multiple allegations of Police rape and related cover ups.
  • Systemic problems in the Police communications centres. This resulted in the death of Iraena Asher after Police pathetically sent a taxi to the wrong address in response to a 111 emergency call.
  • Multiple proven allegations of excessive force being used by Counties Manukau Police.
  • Misguided vehicle pursuits leading to death or injury to innocent parties.
  • The Police having to pay $2.4 million to settle numerous complaints against them including ones alleging wrongful arrest or imprisonment, breach of privacy, unlawful search and seizure, police negligence and defamation
  • The killing of innocent man Halatau Naitoko with the Police showing they believe that they are above the law by failing to charge the officer responsible.
  • Police trying to usurp the role of Parliament by making gun control laws that they were not entitled to make.
Obedience to Police power can be obtained through fear; however, this is not respect. Respect is a two way process. In order to obtain greater respect, from the public they serve, Police need to remember that respect must be earned and not taken.

Friday, March 12, 2010

Iranian President Ahmadinejad and US destabilisation of the Middle East

Today Iranian President Ahmadinejad has warned that the US and its allies have destabilised the Middle East. Before we dismiss this statement as the ranting of a mad man, let's remember that senior US figures have said the same.

James F. Dobbins (Director, International Security and Defense Policy Center, RAND Corporation; Former assistant secretary of state and special envoy to Afghanistan) confirmed that in the 30-40 years when Western troops were not interfering in the Middle East that the area was relatively peaceful and in equilibrium.

Iran's sabre rattling has a defensive element in response to the invasions of Iraq and Afghanistan, threats from Israel and the US, and now the increase in US Navy capability in the Gulf and the stationing of US missiles in the UAE (in response to the perceived threat from Iran).

It would be self destructive for Israel, or the world, not to be vigilant in the face of a real threat, however, provoking an Iranian reaction or overreacting to the actuality is equally dangerous.