Minor offence cases drag on... and on

Thursday August 31, 2017 Written by Published in Crime
Julie Bateman, Jean Mason and Lorna Walters farewell their friend Margaret (Maggie) Boden (bottom right) after 24 years of friendship and memories. 17082827 Julie Bateman, Jean Mason and Lorna Walters farewell their friend Margaret (Maggie) Boden (bottom right) after 24 years of friendship and memories. 17082827

Lawyer Mark Short is bemused at the ongoing saga which has seen 42 youngsters caught up in the judicial system due to minor traffic offences.

 

Some of the cases have been in court for four and a half months and have been handled by three different Justice of the Peace. There have now been seven adjournments.

Short, a strong advocate of leniency for the youngsters, says failing to wear a helmet is not actually a criminal offence, but a simple traffic misdemeanour. It is when people fail to pay their fines that it becomes a criminal offence.

When the cases first came before the court on April 6, Short noted that most of the defendants were still in school and were unable to pay their fine within the seven-day deadline.

“These matters should not come to court, because (most) people charged with not wearing helmets and driving without mirrors or no warrant of fitness are young students who do not work and have no form of income,” Short said at the time.

“There has to be an alternative way to address these matters. Parents need to take responsibility for their children and make arrangements with the police to pay their children’s fines.

I am sure the police would be willing to work in with parents to have these fines paid off in instalments.”

Following these comments, all 42 defendants were given a second chance, and an additional three weeks to pay their fines.

The court was told that all those who had not paid their fines, following the three-week leniency period, would appear on a fresh charge of failing to pay.

The maximum fine of the charge is $500, and the youngsters were not only faced with criminal convictions, but with the cost of their initial fine on top of that figure, a total of over $600.

Since then, the matter has been adjourned five times and 15 people have still not paid their fines.

Asked how he felt about the issue given that some of the young people were still facing charges, Short said he held the same opinion he had expressed four months earlier, that people should not be stuck with a criminal conviction at the age of 16, simply because they hadn’t paid a fine.

“No-one from the police or court staff, including lawyers, want to see a 16-year-old student get a conviction for driving a motorbike without a warrant of fitness or for not wearing a helmet.

“In reality, it looks like everyone is trying to find an equitable way of dealing with these matters that are not going to go away.

“I think the police realise the charges are trivial in comparison to more serious offences such as assault or burglary.

He suggested the Cook Islands should implement a demerit system, which penalises traffic offences, but stops offences such as speeding or not wearing a helmet from leading to criminal convictions.

Short says the main purpose of demerit systems is to identify, deter, and penalise those who repeatedly flout traffic laws, while also streamlining the legal process.

 “In my opinion, this is where demerit points can play a part. That’s the system used in New Zealand for traffic offences such as speeding.”

On August 18, the cases came up in court for the sixth time, and no defendants turned up to face the charges and pay their fines.

Police Prosecutor Senior Sergeant Fairoa Tararo requested one final adjournment, which he said would give police sufficient time to speak to each defendant.

The matter was adjourned “for the last time,” until September 28, when a final decision will be made on the outcome of each case.

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