Equality before the law a myth
Supposedly, all of us - kings, commoners, and business tycoons alike – can expect to receive equal treatment before the law.
In principle, it is hard to disagree with the notion that the justice system should not be influenced by the wealth, status, or race of the accused.
In practice though, the process pans out somewhat differently. A rigorous legal defence is a commodity that many people simply cannot afford, and the way that mercy is extended to the privileged can have more in common with kitten videos than with textbook concepts of equality.
Last week for instance, the punishment handed down to young rich-list scion Nikolas James Posa Delegat inspired a good deal of public criticism, tempered with a certain amount of resignation.
The very rich, as the novelist Scott Fitzgerald once wearily said, are different.
On the night in question, Delegat was found to have broken a bar window, kneed a security guard in the face, resisted arrest from a male police officer and directed a repeated assault at the head of a policewoman that knocked her unconscious.
Some 18 months later and after an extended period off work, she is still suffering from headaches, and – the court was told – further brain trauma could have ‘ serious consequences’ for her.
Ultimately, the court sentenced Delegat to 300 hours of community service and imposed a $5000 fine in reparation.
Thankfully, the presiding judge resisted pleas for a discharge without conviction, which the defence had put forward partly on the grounds that if convicted, Delegat ’’would have difficulties in not being able to race yachts in and around the American coastline’’.
However, the court compassionately noted that Delegat had problems with alcohol, had mental health issues with depression, and - being 18 at the time of the incident - was young enough that his mental lobes might not yet have been fully developed.
Alas, the formative state of the mental lobes of 19-year-old Kawhia resident Jackie Maikuku didn’t seem to have overly concerned the court back in 2013.
Maikuku got nine months jail for assaulting police officer Perry Griffin and giving him cuts and bruises.
Nor was video evidence held relevant that appeared to show Maikuku backing away from Griffin before being pepper sprayed and tasered, until the assault in question occurred.
Delegat avoided a jail sentence entirely. Greg O’Connor, the Police Association president, was unimpressed: ‘‘Had we been talking about a young Polynesian man from south Dunedin then I’m sure we would have been talking about whether it was 12 months or six months, or maybe even longer.’’
Each case is different. Yet the leniency extended to Delegat could hardly be more out of step with the times.
Reportedly, assaults on Police are increasing in frequency and severity.
Six of the eight legal aid offices that provide a form of legal representation to the poor are being closed, amid funding cuts and a decline in the number of lawyers willing to do such work.
In sum, the tender treatment of Delegat could be just the tip of the iceberg. Income inequality - and inequality before the law - appear to be going hand in hand.