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Letter: Questions about the legal system

Wednesday 20 September 2023 | Written by webmaster | Published in


Letter: Questions about the legal system

It is puzzling to witness cases where some individuals seem to slip through the cracks of the justice system.

One such case is that of Joshua Utanga, who has managed to enjoy international travel despite two convictions for assault on a female.

This raises important questions about the fairness and effectiveness of the legal system in dealing with convicted criminals. There have been instances where people have had their passports confiscated for seemingly minor offences, such as selling a bag of lemons.

Another recent case saw a defendant having his passport surrendered to the court after an assault on a female.

These examples beg the question: Why has Joshua Utanga been allowed to retain his passport despite his convictions? The fact that Joshua is able to take vacations in Australia adds fuel to this debate. With two assault convictions, it would be reasonable for him to face similar consequences as others in similar situations. It is crucial for the justice system to ensure equitable treatment for all individuals. Perhaps there may be undisclosed factors at play or reasons behind Joshua's continued ability to travel abroad.

However, transparency is essential in cases involving public interest, and if no adequate explanation is provided, it can erode trust in the system. It is vital that leniency should not be extended toward individuals like Joshua Utanga without a just cause. If passports are confiscated from offenders with similar or lower ranking convictions, then justice should be served evenly.

Society must demand consistency and fairness in how those who are convicted are dealt with, regardless of their personal circumstances or connections. Sammy Mataroa

Ministry of Justice Secretary Tamatoa Jonassen responds

 Although everyone is entitled to equal protection of the law, not everyone who comes through the court system has the same situation; for example, there may be different facts in each case, each defendant may have different histories of prior offending, or the crime(s) being alleged may be different in severity.

Accordingly, it should not be surprising that there are different results for different people that go through the courts. It is up to the Judge or Justice of the Peace presiding over the case to determine whether a defendant's passport should be confiscated or not, and this determination is sometimes the subject of legal arguments submitted by the lawyers acting on each side of the case, and sometimes influenced by probationary or mental health assessment reports where relevant.

It is the job of Crown prosecutors/Police to prosecute alleged criminal activity in the public interest, and if there is inequitable application of the law, then the parties can seek to appeal the decision made by the Justice of the Peace or Judge, to a High Court Judge or Court of Appeal, as the situation requires and depending on the nature of the alleged offence.

 The Cook Islands is very lucky to have highly qualified Judges, many of which are retired New Zealand Court Judges, or are still actively serving on the New Zealand Court bench.