18 Aug 2009

Sentences in makutu case appropriate, says Turia

3:18 pm on 18 August 2009

Maori Party co-leader Tariana Turia says sentences handed down in a curse-lifting manslaughter case are entirely appropriate.

Janet Moses died after being subjected to a curse-lifting ceremony, or makutu, at her grandfather's Wainuiomata home in 2007.

Ms Moses drowned after water was poured into her eyes and down her throat.

All five found criminally responsible for her death were sentenced in the High Court on Friday to community-based sentences, ranging from community detention to supervision.

The Crown has indicated it will not appeal against the sentences.

Mrs Turia believes that at no point did those involved in the ceremony have any malicious intent and she is pleased with the outcome.

She says it is important that Maori communities are careful when participating in such a practice so that it does not result in the loss of life.

Crown prosecutor Grant Burston says there is no set sentencing regime in manslaughter cases because they vary in terms of the facts surrounding them and the circumstances of each offender.

Mr Burston says the Crown accepts the sentences handed down were within the sentencing discretion of the court.

Sentence 'wrong' - Mallard

Earlier, senior Labour MP Trevor Mallard said he believed the five involved in the fatal curse lifting ceremony would have been sent to prison were they not Maori.

Ms Moses drowned after water was forced into her eyes and down her throat by family members who thought she had a makutu, or Maori curse.

Mr Mallard, MP for Hutt South, which takes in the suburb of Wainuiomata, wrote on the Labour Party's Red Alert website that the decision not to send the five to prison was wrong.

On Monday, he said he believed Justice Simon France had got it wrong.

"It is a very unusual set of circumstances and I think, in this case, the judge got it wrong," he said.

"I think there is a lot of sympathy for the individuals involved. They did get caught up in some sort of hysteria. They were sleep-deprived.

"But there's just not an acceptance either from the vast majority of Maori or pakeha people that you can effectively torture someone for well over a day ... causing death and there not be a jail sentence."

Labour leader Phil Goff has defended the right of Mr Mallard to comment on the case, though he says he does not agree with what Mr Mallard is saying.

Mr Goff says Mr Mallard was expressing a personal opinion as the local MP, something he is perfectly entitled to do.

Not a racial issue, says PM

Prime Minister John Key said it is generally bad practice for politicians to comment on sentencing, but he wanted to respond to Mr Mallard's comments on the case.

Mr Key said the intent of those convicted was not to kill Ms Moses, and he believed it is not a racial issue.

Justice Minister Simon Power said he does not comment on sentences out of respect for the separation of the judiciary and the executive. He advised other MPs to do the same.

The Sensible Sentencing Trust said it is surprised at the frankness of Mr Mallard's comments. Spokesperson Garth McVicar said he completely agreed with the view unexpectedly expressed by Mr Mallard.

Maori lawyer Moana Jackson said he is certain Mr Mallard's comments are just politicking. He believed the MP's views were ridiculous and any judge would make an equally reasonable decision in similar circumstances.