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Letter: Time to review our legal system

Monday 10 October 2022 | Written by Supplied | Published in Letters to the Editor, Opinion

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Letter: Time to review our legal system

Dear Editor, I write in support of the plight of inmate Teina Simiona Ataera and his young family (‘They put me in this situation’: Authorities mum on claims of inhumane treatment at prison, Cook Islands News, October 7).

I acted for Teina when he was convicted and sentenced to three years imprisonment for dealing in cannabis. I pleaded with the Judge to give him a minimum sentence of one year in prison and two years’ probation. I advised the court that Ataera suffered from a number of life threatening and debilitating illnesses which ultimately will result in a referral to New Zealand. Straight after my submission, the senior crown counsel leaped to her feet and casually advised the Judge that she has spoken to the Superintendent of Prison and he had assured her that the Prison had all the facilities to handle sick prisoners.

Therein lies part of the problem, the haste to push for custodial sentence with insufficient regard for the welfare of the prisoner. May I ask the Solicitor General and Crown law prosecutors, public health officers, hospital doctors and senior police officers, have you visited and inspected the Arorangi Prison yet? If not, make your visit when they are all in and not working out in the field so you can see how overcrowded it is. Don’t announce your visit because they will spring clean it to make it look better than it really is.

What is needed urgently is for the Government to set up a Committee to review our entire legal system and institutions. We are already years behind New Zealand. A good example is we have no Sentencing Act, so we have been using the NZ Act and I find it extremely harsh. Sentences in the Drug and Narcotics Act are three times more harsher in our current Act than the NZ laws. Right now, there are only three active lawyers practicing in the Criminal Bar. Lawyers are not attracted because most clients do not or are unable to pay their legal fees. You can forget about Legal Aid. We have the worst system around, poorly funded, over bureaucratised and controlled and not worth it. The NZ system is well funded with lawyers graded according to their experience. 

I am the only one doing trial by jury in the Cook Islands. My concern is that I am not going to be around forever. We need to establish a Public Defenders Office, with lawyers paid salaries to defend people facing criminal, traffic and other charges.

To give the Government competent advice, I suggest they form a Committee headed by former Solicitor General and MP for Pukapuka Tingika Elikana, with experienced lawyers like Tim Arnold, Tony Manarangi, Iaveta Short, Reuben Tylor and Catherine Evans. The Government may wish to call it “The Law and Law Related Institutional Reform Committee.” I will be happy to make submissions to this committee. This Committee can tackle problems like how to handle Police abuse of arrest powers and Prison Officer abuse of prisoners.

In conclusion I wish to say the bedrock of justice in our country need urgent massive repairs, hit the reset button and widen the pinnacle of fairness and justice for all our citizens.

Kia Manuia.                                                      

Norman George  

Senior Barrister and Solicitor