Helmet charges go criminal

Monday October 02, 2017 Written by Published in Local

The ongoing motorcycle helmet saga which has seen large numbers of young people caught up in the judicial process for over five months, will now see 15 young people faced with their first criminal conviction.

 

The matter came up in court last week for the eighth time before Justice of the Peace Georgina Williams and saw Police Prosecutions seek a dismissal for want of prosecution under section 57 of the Criminal Procedures Act 1981.

The action saw all minor charges dismissed, and a substitute charge of “failing to pay” laid against the youngsters.

The new charge carries a heavier penalty and a criminal conviction, which will leave each young defendant with a criminal record. And that’s an outcome police, defence lawyers and the Ministry of Justice were trying to avoid.

Police Prosecutor Senior Sergeant Fairoa Tararo told the court that each defendant faced one charge of “failing to pay,” irrespective of their number of charges.

Some individuals faced as many as four individual minor traffic offence charges with an accumulated fine of well over $500. These were all dismissed.

The minor offences had occupied court officials in a huge amount of work and left many people outraged at the lengthy court process involved.

But although the matter has been drawn out over five months, the case has yet to reach a conclusive end, leaving lawyers, police, JPs and defendants in limbo.

Some of the cases have been in court for over five months and have been handled by four different JPs. Before last Friday’s proceeding, there had been seven adjournments.

Lawyer Mark Short, who has been a strong advocate for the young offenders since the matter first appeared in April before JP John Whitta, said failing to wear a helmet was not actually a criminal offence, but simply a traffic misdemeanour. It is when people fail to pay the fine - an outcome of the charge, that it becomes a criminal offence.

Introduction of a new motorcycle helmet law a year ago has seen numerous youngsters appear in court on charges involving unpaid fines and minor traffic offences.

The law requires local riders aged between 16-25 and tourists to wear helmets, and has sparked issues over young people being hit with their first conviction at the age of 16.

When the cases first came before the court on April 6, Short noted that most of the 42 defendants were still in school and 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.”

All 42 defendants were then 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 seven times and 15 people have still not paid their fines.

Given that the matter had been in court since April, and the charges had been laid before then, both Police Prosecutions and Williams agreed the individuals had been given sufficient time to “save their pocket money” and right their wrongs.

The defendants will be notified of the new charge and the judicial process will begin yet again. 

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