Commentary: A type of court penalty in New Zealand may offer Tongan judges and magistrates an alternative to enforcing what some consider to be heavy fines for traffic offences.
New Zealand community laws allow judges to impose non-financial and non-custodial sentences on people convicted of certain offences, including some traffic violations.
Attorney General Linda Folaumoetu’i is expected to meet Chief Magistrate Folau Lokotui, the Ministry of Police and the Ministry of Infrastructure this week to discuss widespread concern about fines associated with the kingdom’s new traffic laws.
Hon. Folaumoetu’i told Kaniva News that Lokotui’s view was that he had no leeway to impose fines lower than TP$500 if a case came to court.
Community sentences are far more common in New Zealand than in comparable counties.
Research has suggested that the increase in the use of community fines came about because judges were reluctant to impose fines on people who were unable to pay them.
These sentences can include community work and being confined to home.
Judges also expressed concern at the number of people coming before the courts who could not afford to pay a fine.
New Zealand’s sentencing system determines the amount of the fine primarily by reference to the seriousness of the offence, with some adjustment for the offender’s means.
According to one report, New Zealand Judges have tried to reflect the reality of unequal wealth in their sentencing decisions.
However, they are more likely to impose an alternative sentence on unemployed offenders than to lower the fine.
This was because they were worried about how the public saw very different levels of fines being imposed for the same offence.
In Tonga concerns have also been raised about the cost of defending a case in court. Tonga has no legal aid funding to help people pay for their lawyers and legal needs. There have also been complaints that the new fines have to be paid immediately without court allowing 28 days to pay as happens in New Zealand and Australia.
There have also been complaints that the emphasis of the laws has been misplaced. Some have argued that too much emphasis has been placed on seat belts when it should have been on speed and drink driving, which is regarded as the main cause of death on the road. There is also a feeling that the law penalises private cars with seatbelts.
Trucks and vans have been widely used in Tonga to transport people since the arrival of the first vehicle in the kingdom. Most people have vans because of their capacity to take large families as well as their equipment and food crops from their tax allotments.
It has been pointed out that when the schools opened again last week, pickup vans were seen in Tongatapu with full loads of students and parents sitting in the back without any seatbelts. Some would argue that if the seatbelt law was enforced on these people sitting in the back, it would be devastating to many families as the fines would be too much for them.
There have also been concerns at why children under 12-year-old were exempted if they sit at the front passenger seats if the law was meant to protect people and save lives.
New Zealand’s community sentencing laws may be the solution.
‘E lava ke ngāue’aki ‘i Tonga ‘a e tautea faka-fakamaau’anga ‘oku fai ‘i Nu’u Sila ‘oku ‘iloa ko e tautea ngāue ki he komiunitii’ ke ne fetongi ‘a e tautea pa’anga kuo taku ‘oku fu’u mamafa fau ki he kakai ‘o e fonua’ hangē ko e $500 e ta’eleta’ hili hono paasi ‘a e lao ke pule’i ‘a e me’alele’ mo hono ngāue’aki’. ‘I he tautea komiunitii’ ‘oku hilifaki heni ‘e he kau fakamāu Nu’u Sila’ ha ngāue mo’ua ki he kau maumau lao’ ke nau fai ha ngāue ‘aonga ki he komiunitii’ pē ko ‘enau nofoma’u ‘i ‘api ‘ikai toe ngofua ke mavahe mei ai ‘i ha taimi pau, kae ‘ikai ko hano tautea pa’anga kinautolu. Ko e ola ‘eni ia ‘o ha fakatotolo ne fai ‘o mahino ai ‘oku ‘ikai vēkeveke ‘a e kau fakamaau tokolahi ke tautea pa’anga ha taha ‘oku ‘ikai ‘ilo pe ko e ‘ai ke ma’u ha’ane silini mei fē ke totongi’aki hono mo’ua’. ‘I muli’ ni foki ‘oku ‘i ai ‘a e ngaahi me’a ‘oku ngofua ia ‘i he lao taputapui peheni’ (excempted) ‘o ‘oua ‘e kau he tautea’ hangē ko e kau pāsese he pasi’ ‘oku ‘osi tuhu’i mahino mai he lao ‘e ‘atā pe kinautolu ‘ikai ke nau tui ha leta’. Ko e taha e fakaanga kuo ‘ohake he lao’ ni ko e pehē ko e me’a ne fokotu’u ai ko e lahi ‘a e mate he hala pule’anga’, ka ‘oku pehē ‘e he kau fakaanga’ kapau ko e ‘uhinga totonu’ ia pea ko e hā ‘oku ‘ikai lao’i ai ke leta kotoa ‘a e kau pāsese’ he me’alele’ kae fakapatonu pe lao ki he faka’uli’ mo kinautolu heka he sea mu’a’ he ne lahi pe mo e mate he fakatu’utāmaki me’alele ne mate mo e kau pāsese ‘i mui’. ‘Ikai ko ia pe ka kuo toe fehu’ia ‘a e ‘uhinga ‘oku faka’atā ai ‘a kinautolu ‘i lalo he ta’u 12 ka ‘oku nau heka he sea mu’a’ ke ta’eleta’ ‘okapau ko e ‘uhinga ia ne ‘ai ai e lao’ koe’uhī ke malu’i e mo’ui’? Fēfē ‘a e kau heka ‘i mui he loli’ mo e ngaahi me’alele uta ‘ikai ha leta ai? ‘Oku toe fakatu’utāmaki ange ia ka hoko ha fakatu’utāmaki me’alele he hala’ ‘oku ‘ikai hanau leta.