Case shows it's not a level playing field

Last updated 05:00 05/02/2013

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Most of us would be familiar with the old saying "The law is an ass".

Sadly, it seems New Zealand has another ruling that would tend to substantiate that.

Judge Graham Hubble presided over a case in which a top New Zealand sportswoman admitted driving with 801 micrograms per litre of breath - double the legal limit of 400mcg.

After hearing submissions from her defence counsel, the compassionate judge discharged her without conviction and gave her permanent name suppression.

Her lawyer, Marcia Insley, told the court that her client, who had no previous convictions, had reached an "exceptional level" in her sport, and had been offered a chance to compete overseas. A conviction would affect her ability to do that.

That was enough for Judge Hubble, who described Ms Insley's submission as "persuasive" as he agreed to her requests for a discharge and name suppression.

In explaining his reasons, he said he was mindful of occasions when New Zealand representative rugby players were refused entry to Canada because of similar convictions.

And there you have it.

The suppression order means the media cannot tell you who she is, the sport she's in or what she's achieved. The veracity of her lawyer's claims cannot be tested or verified.

Understandably, reaction has been quick. The sense of an open and transparent judicial system has once again been put at risk by what appears to be an overly generous ruling by a judge.

Perhaps the most galling aspect of his actions is that it appears to ignore the seriousness of the crime. The sportswoman was not marginally over the legal limit after consuming a drink or two too many. She was more than double the legal limit, which meant she was a danger to everyone else on the road that night.

That, in itself, should have ensured her lawyer's plea for leniency was unsuccessful.

Most fair-minded people are familiar with the legal principle of allowing for cases in which the gravity of the penalty would outweigh that of the crime itself. Fine, there will always be exceptions and judges should be allowed some leeway at such times.

This case, however, fails the commonsense test. Would the leniency have been extended to an All Black? If it had been, the one certainty is the uproar that greeted it would have been heard across the country - and rightly so.

The Government has spent a fortune on getting the message across that if you drink and drive "you're a bloody idiot". In this particular case it would appear that the ruling of the learned judge may well fit that description as well.

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Hopefully, the Crown will seriously consider an appeal. This is something no top sportswoman, or sportsman, should ever expect to get away with.

Sport teaches them, above all else, that for every action, or inaction, there is a consequence. Sadly, it was missing in this instance.

- Taranaki Daily News

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