Michael Laws: Let the punishment fit the crime

This week Auckland doctor, and prospective surgeon, Oliver Rose, walked free and unconvicted from a Rotorua court after pleading guilty to assaulting his wife. Not once, not twice, but on three separate occasions.

The attacks took place over six months, and one left extensive bruising to his kicked victim.

The judge hearing the case decided that a conviction would be unfair on Rose. He wanted to train as an ear, nose and throat surgeon and any legal stain could quash that career. Go, and sin no more, implored Judge Phillip Cooper and make a $3000 donation to the prosecution on your way out.

At first glance, Rose's light treatment provokes astonishment. Not unnaturally, many Kiwis would consider that if the defendant had been brown and a beneficiary, then the outcome would have been very different. And a certain naivete was exhibited by the judge - Rose's public plight has already sealed his fate with the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons.

Until one considers that Rose is himself a victim of the double justice that affects this country.

Those who attract media attention - former financial analyst Guy Hallwright and rugby league great Tawera Nikau being but a recent two - suffer ritual humiliation courtesy of the media coverage of their transgressions.

One might reasonably argue that such tabloid trials are a worse punishment than conviction. They stay on the public record forever and any future Google search of Oliver Rose by any potential employer will reveal his offending. An accompanying conviction seems almost immaterial.

Certainly Judge Cooper considered that Rose's offending had extenuating circumstances. Media reports suggest a toxic relationship, a number of close family deaths and a spicy seasoning of jealousy all playing their part. And remember - we are relying on the media report of the case. It's my experience that something is always lost in the translation.

As someone who has similarly been discharged without conviction - for inadvertently speculating that a named paedophile must have had family victims - I have a peculiar experience of the media trial. In that case, angry editorials were published by a rival media organisation that I had escaped justice because of who I was.

I hadn't. It was just that a different justice had been dispensed - and, arguably, a harsher one. The prosecuting police were out to make a point and they achieved their goal.

The truth is that anyone in the public eye in New Zealand - be they broadcaster, sports star, high-profile professional or politician - gets a different justice to the rest of us. The coverage of their transgressions is much greater - the humiliation much more pronounced - than if they were Joe or Josephine Normal.

Yes, a brown beneficiary would probably have been convicted by Judge Cooper. But then no-one would have noticed. And the conviction would have had little consequence by comparison.

In retrospect, justice was done in the Rotorua District Court.

Oliver Rose admitted his assaults and wears the wife-beater tag forever.

In today's world, that punishment is actually harsher.

Sunday Star Times