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High Court adjourns sentencing to confirm conviction details

Saturday 14 October 2023 | Written by Losirene Lacanivalu | Published in Court, National


High Court adjourns sentencing to confirm conviction details
Cook Islands High Court. Photo: Sian Solomon/21110511

The Cook Islands High Court has once again adjourned the sentencing of Joshua Utanga, who is accused of assaulting his ex-partner, to Tuesday, October 17.

Utanga appeared before Justice Dame Judith Potter yesterday via audio visual link at the High Court in Avarua.

The adjournment was to confirm whether a conviction on both charges of assault against Utanga was mentioned on July 27 when the jury announced guilty verdicts after a four-day trial.

Justice Potter said her practice is to convict following the jury verdict. A record of the proceeding was to be looked into.

Crown Law senior counsel Jamie Crawford said she did not have the conviction noted as there was a remand in sentencing and probation report ordered.

Also read:

> Sentencing date adjourned for man convicted of assaulting ex-partner

> Man convicted on two counts of assaulting ex-partner

> Accused denies assaulting his ex-partner

> Defendant told cops he loved his partner, wanted to seek counselling

> Pregnant mum speaks of being assaulted while holding infant daughter in her arms    

Utanga’s lawyer, Tudor Clee, said he was not sure and understood that Utanga had previous counsel.

Earlier, to the sentencing submissions, an application for discharge without conviction was made by the defense.

Defense lawyer Clee said there were consequences if Utanga were to be convicted, as he would need to travel to the United States for family and future business reasons. Clee highlighted the consequences of a conviction on travel for Utanga.

Crown Law’s Crawford said Utanga’s conviction would not affect his family’s ability to travel to the United States.

Clee said Utanga had business in the Cook Islands and New Zealand, but did not have any business in the US, but might do so in the future.

In relation to the discharge without conviction application, Crawford noted that defense lawyer Clee said they accepted the aggravating factors, and in turn, the Crown accepted the mitigating factors, including good character and the fact that Utanga had undertaken counselling.

However, she said they had noticed that the counselling had not led anywhere, and they had not seen any real impact, “given his continued lack of insight, and lack of remorse”.

She argued that this was a domestic violence matter, and that discharging Utanga without a conviction would not hold him accountable for the harm done to the victim.

“In the Crown’s view, discharging the defendant without conviction would not hold them accountable for the harm done, nor promote a sense of responsibility, nor would it denounce such conduct or provide for the interests of the victim.”

Utanga was alleged to have assaulted his former partner, Melarnie Manuela, on five separate occasions over two days between July 10 and 11, 2022.

The jury reached a unanimous decision on three charges, two of not guilty and one of guilty relating to an incident in which Utanga and Manuela got into a tussle in his van, which ended with her sustaining injuries.

On another charge in which Utanga was accused of smacking her across the face with an open palm, the jury returned a majority guilty verdict. On a charge of kicking the victim, he was found not guilty through a majority verdict.

The two unanimous not guilty verdicts related to him pulling her out of bed and hitting her with a paddleboard pump.


Sammy Mataroa on 15/10/2023

It's disheartening to read that the sentencing of Joshua Utanga has been adjourned once again. Domestic violence cases like this must be taken seriously, as the harm caused to the victim cannot be understated. Though it's not surprising that his defense lawyer is seeking a discharge without conviction due to potential consequences on Joshua's travel and business prospects, we must not lose sight of the importance of holding him accountable for his actions. The Crown Law senior counsel makes a valid point that discharging Joshua without a conviction would not promote a sense of responsibility or denounce such conduct, which is crucial in domestic violence cases. Moreover, if the counseling he underwent hasn't shown any signs of real impact or remorse, it raises questions about his commitment to change. It's important to prioritize the interests of the victim and ensure those who commit acts of domestic violence face appropriate repercussions for their actions. The Cook Islands High Court should focus on sending a clear message against domestic violence while still considering mitigating factors when determining Joshua's final sentence.