Lawyer slams probation service actions
An Invercargill lawyer has accused the probation service of acting in an "underhanded" manner before the sentencing of one of her clients.
Kate McHugh made the hard- hitting comments to a judge during the sentencing of Kane Iana Fuatavai in the Invercargill District Court this month.
Fuatavai was sentenced to 12 months' jail for injuring with intent. Although Fuatavai did not physically assault the victim, he had pleaded guilty to a "low level" charge of injuring with intent, Ms McHugh said.
He had stood over people to prevent them from going to the victim's aid.
Ms McHugh took umbrage at how the probation service had handled the matter before sentencing, telling Judge David Holderness that she believed the service had been "underhanded". She told the judge she would take the issue up with the probation service.
When approached for comment after the sentencing, Ms McHugh said her concerns arose after she wrote to the service on October 11 to clarify the charge her client had pleaded guilty to.
She believed the probation service, which had recommended her client be sent to jail, had not entirely understood the charge, so she wrote the letter to clarify the situation, she said.
The service, when responding to her letter, addressed the reply directly to the judge about 24 hours before he sentenced Fuatavai, she said.
"Which is why I said in open court they were being underhanded, because they addressed the reply to the court and not to me," Ms McHugh said.
The probation service report to the judge was "completely irrelevant to what I had raised and I thought it was them taking an underhanded opportunity to have a second say . . . they used the opportunity to provide quite a damning second report about my client which we had not invited them to do."
The probation service had revoked positive matters they had said in the first place, she said.
The service had added in Fuatavai's convictions between 2005 and 2013, which she had not asked for, and it incorrectly said Fuatavai had been subject to internal discipline at Invercargill Prison in August when he wasn't even at the prison, she said.
"And they used that as a further challenge to his suitability for home detention".
"This particular case was, I think, inappropriately handled and has directly affected my client."
Otago district manager, community probation, Raymond Clark said the service could not comment on the management of individual offenders.
In general, the department was required to file a report as an independent third party for the judge to assist the court to make an informed decision on the sentence.
"The judge has a wide range of information made available to them, including submissions made by counsel on the day. The report provided by (department of corrections) is just one aspect of available information. It is important to note that it is the judge who decides on the sentence, not Corrections."
If a lawyer was unhappy with any of the information provided by the service they should contact the local probation sentencing team, he said.
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