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Permanent suppression given in assault and wilful damage cases

Wednesday 1 March 2023 | Written by Al Williams | Published in Court, Crime, National


Permanent suppression given in assault and wilful damage cases
Cook Islands High Court. Photo: Sian Solomon/21110511

A Justice of the Peace has ordered permanent suppression surrounding two defendants in separate cases involving assault and wilful damage.

JP John Whitta made the announcement prior to sentencing getting underway in court on Tuesday.

In terms of the offending, JP Whitta said mental health was a component in both cases, and in granting suppression, he said that including names of defendants, complainants, employers and anyone else, would lead to identification of the defendants.

He added places of residence, and any other details leading to identification, and references to specific illnesses. 

All other matters were not suppressed.

Cook Islands News challenged his decision on the grounds of public interest and open conversation.

JP Whitta said identification of the defendants could lead to further consequences for them, as there was stigma attached, and it could cause damage in a small community. 

The court heard the first defendant, charged with assault with intent to injure, had been involved in a lot of meetings with family, lawyers and health representatives in an attempt to address the offending.

A treatment plan had been implemented and the key issue was the continued and consistent use of prescribed medication.

The defendant had made considerable process in continuing to take medication, including employment, and making amends to the victim.

The court heard the defendant had “done all the right things”.

A family member was identified as a “trigger point”, but it appeared that person was happy with the outcome “so far”.

The court was asked if probation could have some oversight in terms of making sure the defendant continued taking their medication.

JP Whitta asked probation how that would fit into the conditions.

Probation said it was a matter to be dealt with by health authorities.

The question remained as to how to make sure the defendant kept taking their medication.

The court heard the defendant met with a doctor once a fortnight and took medication daily.

JP Whitta said it was something which needed to be checked on – “If some issues arise, we can catch it before it becomes a problem.”

Mitigating factors included an early guilty plea, apology, and a letter from the victim.

In the second case, the court heard the defendant had been intoxicated and broken a glass panel.   

As police failed in their attempts to calm them down, the defendant was taken into custody and charged with wilful damage.

It had been some time since the offence and police said there had been no trouble.

JP Whitta recalled hearing the matter a couple of years ago and had given a decision of guilty at a defended hearing.

He then adjourned the court for a couple of hours to make his decisions in both matters.

When he returned, the court heard the first defendant’s initial concern was different from what police reported following the offence.

The victim lost income and had trouble sleeping, but at the time of the victim impact statement, they were feeling better.

Police noted a weapon had been used, and it was not the defendant’s first time before the courts.

The defendant was responding well to treatment and there had been positive changes.

“Most important is your improvement in mental health,” JP Whitta said.

Intent was central to the charge and underlying mental health issues had a part to play.

At sentencing, the main objective was not to see repeat offending.

“You have made a positive start,” JP Whitta said. “Prison is not appropriate.”

The defendant was convicted and sentenced to 12 months of supervision and probation, ordered to attend counselling, and not to enter licenced venues or purchase alcohol, and not leave the Cook Islands without permission.  

In the second matter, involving wilful damage, JP Whitta said it had been back and forth to court several times.

The defendant did not dispute the facts but did dispute the fact the damaged property did not belong to them.

They did not remember the events.

No reparations had been sought by the victim, while the matter involved minor damage.

The offending was at the lower end, but it was not the first time the defendant had appeared before the courts.

“It is clear you have developed a certain pattern of offending,” JP Whitta said.

“The overriding factor is your mental health situation.

“To punish you would be detrimental to your mental health; I think your belief is genuine; I can’t explain why your view is different to the court.”

The defendant was convicted and discharged.