OF ALL THE addle-brained, misguided nonsence. A well-known comedian who admitted performing a sex act on his four-year-old daughter has been discharged without conviction. In part because he is a good entertainer,
“He’s a talented New Zealander,” Judge Philippa Cunningham told the Auckland District Couty last week. “He makes people laugh. Laughter is an incredible medicine and we all need lot’s of it.”
The case has parallels with that of former Te Papa manager Noel James Osborne who escaped conviction last month for a “degrading” assault on his pregnant former partner after claiming a conviction would hamper his international travel for the museum, and another entertainer discharged without conviction two years ago after pleading guilty to performing an indecent act in a Wellington alleyway.
In each case, the judge concluded the consequence of a conviction far exceeded the gravity of offending. In each case, the public has been left utterly bewildered. Making people laugh does not entitle you to leniency from the courts. Nor does holding a position of responsibility.
The comedian, whose name has been permanently suppressed to protect the identity of his victim, and Osborne have paid a heavy price for their offending. The comedian has lost his job and his family. Osborne, who resigned his position as a collecting manager of Maori artefacts at Te Papa two weeks ago, has lost his reputation.
However, their troubles are a consequence of actions they admitted to, not decisions taken by the court. In the comedian’s case the police statement of facts said he took down the girl’s pyjama pants and her pull-up nappy and kissed her after drinking for twelve hours. “I thought it was you,” the judge said he told his partner. In Osborne’s case, the statement of facts said he held his former partner down by her hair, rubbed water from the toilet in her face and verbally abused her during a struggle in which his cellphone was dropped in the toilet.
It is almost inevitable that celebrities and others with high profiles will pay a higher price for convictions than those unknown outside their immediate circle. They have more to lose. But that is not a reason to stay the execution of justice.
Justice is supposed to be blind to power, wealth and position. That is why the statue of justice is traditionally depicted wearing a blindfold. We may arrive at the courtroom by different means – bus, car, chauffered limousine, but inside we should all be treated the same.
Decisions such as that by Judge Cunningham in the comedian’s case, Judge Bruce Davidson in Osborne’s case and Judge Eddie Paul in the case of the entertainer discharged without conviction after forcing a 16-year-old girl’s head into his naked crotch, undermine confidence in the judiciary.
They also undermine confidence in the rule of law. All are not equal, but all should be treated equally in the courts.
The administration of justice is no laughing matter.
OPINION – Editorial: The Dominion Post, Tuesday, September 6. 2011. p. B4.