28 Sep 2016

Discharge without conviction numbers slump

5:04 pm on 28 September 2016

The number of people being discharged without conviction in New Zealand courts has almost halved since 2010, new figures show.

Coat of Arms inside the High Court in Rotorua

Photo: RNZ / Claire Eastham-Farrelly

The figures follow controversy around the case of Losi Filipo, a Wellington rugby player who was last month discharged without conviction for an assault on four people.

Mr Filipo was 17 years old at the time of the attack in October 2015. His contract with Wellington Rugby was terminated yesterday after his case sparked public outrage.

Ministry of Justice figures show there were 3263 discharges without conviction in 2010. That number has fallen every year since, to 1872 last year.

Criminal Bar Association vice president Len Anderson said that was not surprising.

"It has become much more difficult to get a discharge without conviction. A few years ago, you could just go along to court and ask for it.

"Now it's a very formalised process with affidavits, that is evidence in support, and you really have to demonstrate something quite out of the ordinary before you can get one."

Violence cases brought the highest number of discharges in the period covered by the figures, followed by driving offences.

An increase in homicide cases being discharged, from one in 2011 to eight in 2015, was due to driving offences that resulted in death being included in the statistics from 2015.

Losi Filipo

Losi Filipo Photo: Wellington Lions

Mr Anderson said judges expected to see a strong argument from lawyers before granting a discharge.

"So far as career is concerned, you need to be able to establish that it will have an effect, not that it may have an effect. So if somebody has, say, an employment contract that is put in jeopardy, that's obviously something the court will consider.

"One of the main things that keeps people out of trouble is having a job and if the person is likely to lose their job as result of a conviction, that is obviously an important factor and important consequence that other people wouldn't face.

"If you take the rugby player situation, a rugby player with a contract who's at risk of losing it would be in a different position to a promising rugby player who would hope to get a contract in the future."

The ministry and Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue declined to comment on the discharge figures.

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Photo: Supplied

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