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Editorial: Judgment feels right

Last updated 05:00 11/12/2012

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OPINION: Who would be a judge?

Seeing many of the same people time and again, trying to come up with punishments that fit the crime while also being realistic of the circumstances of the person standing before you.

At the same time you're opening yourself up to criticism by victims or the general public.

The public who weren't in your courtroom to hear the case or see the accused.

The public who often will see prison as the deserved sentence, when that may in fact be the worst thing to do.

Or community work that will never be done. Or reparation that will never be paid.

The victims, therefore, of financial planner Neville Cant might feel miffed that his ordered reparation of $50 a week for $400,000 of lost investments will take 150 years to pay off, but if there's no money in the bucket there's no money in the bucket. His six months community detention was seen as the balance.

So imagine what you might do if standing before you is a 19-year-old who, fooling around with a couple of mates one night, set fire to a tractor and a $300,000 directional drill. The drill was destroyed, and the owner lost $48,000 in earnings.

Now these guys should have known better. What they did was dumb. Yet they hardly have the means to make good their mistakes. Not straight away anyway.

The 19-year-old had tried to make good though, and Judge Joanna Maze in the Timaru District Court on Friday recognised it.

He'd fronted up to the tractor owner and worked for a week for the company. On the back of that the company wasn't seeking reparation.

The owner of the drill though wanted something back. Fair enough. Not only did it lose earnings, it is likely to face increased insurance premiums and policy costs.

And Judge Maze agreed, and ordered he pay $40,000 reparation. And at a meaningful weekly amount of $80 a week. That's not normal treatment of a 19-year-old in the dock. He should take it as a compliment. A compliment that the judge has some faith in him.

Also unusual was her comparison to students emerging from university with $40,000 loans.

If they can pay, so can you, was the message.

She added nine months home detention.

Judges often cop flak for their decisions. This one sounds just right.

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- The Timaru Herald

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