Lawyers are disputing criticisms that the sentence handed down to Nikolas Delegat are light because he is the son of a Kiwi rich-lister.
Nikolas James Posa Delegat – the son of winemaker Jakov “Jim” Delegat who along with his sister Rosemari is said in the 2016 NBR Rich List
to have a fortune of $450 million – was sentenced last week by Judge Kevin Phillips at the Dunedin District Court.
He was ordered to complete 300 hours of community work and to pay $5,000 as reparation to Constable Alana Kane, the police officer he assaulted.
In March last year when he was a University of Otago student, the 19-year-old Delegat became unruly after a comment about his girlfriend. After the intoxicated young man punched a hole in a window of a student bar, the police were asked to intervene which was when Delegat punched Kane.
Delegat, who has apologised as he pleaded guilty to assaulting the policewoman, hit Kane three times after she was knocked unconscious. After a 15-hour treatment in the hospital, Kane was off work for two months.
In an interview with Radio New Zealand, Police Association president Greg O’Connor said Nikolas Delegat had an advantage because of the resources he has access to.
“This judge did convict him and he didn’t get name suppression. You can imagine how much pressure will have gone on to prevent those things occurring,” O’Connor said.
“However, had that been someone unable to access the resources of Mr. Delegat, then it would probably be highly unlikely they would have got the same result.”
In a statement, the Sensible Sentencing Trust blasted the sentence saying it’s a relatively tame punishment for the offense committed.
“Any assault on a police officer must carry a serious penalty and a wet bus ticket slap on the hand with a fine does not fit the criteria of serious,” said SST spokesperson Scott Guthrie.
Punishment consistent with prevailing sentences
Amid the perception that Delegat’s punishment is unfair, some lawyers have said that it is indeed consistent with prevailing sentences handed down for the particular crime.
In a statement, the New Zealand Law Society said that criticisms of the sentence are “ill-informed and unfair to the judge”.
“There seems to be a perception that the sentence is unusual and out of kilter. This is not correct and the focus on the case seems largely to be driven because Mr Delegat comes from a wealthy background,” said Steve Bonnar QC, the convenor of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee.
“If any 19-year-old with no previous convictions had appeared on the same charges it is almost certain that under New Zealand’s sentencing practices they would not have received a prison sentence,” he said.
Bonnar also defended Phillips, saying the Dunedin judge’s decision, which is widely available for anyone who wanted to scrutinise, reflected all facts involved.
“Criticism of Judge Phillips is not fair. His decision on whether to discharge Mr Delegat without conviction is freely available online and it shows all the factors which the Judge considered: the gravity of the charges, the viewpoints of the victims, the impact of a conviction, and the guidelines laid down by our appellate courts which must be followed,” he said.
The Law Society pointed out that while debate and comment on the judiciary is important, these should always be “informed by the knowledge of hour our system is organised to ensure fairness for everyone.”
“The Law Society believes we are fortunate to have a judiciary which applies the laws we have made in an impartial manner,” Bonnar said.
Meanwhile, John Billington QC told NBR
that while he understands the perception of an unfair sentence, the case wouldn’t be making headlines in the first place had it involved a poorer perpetrator.
“What you are talking about here is somebody who has no previous record,” he told the news organisation.
“It doesn’t matter what socio-economic group they come from. You get a first offender on that charge, with a clear record, then the outcome is going to be very similar.
“The court was bound to impose the least restrictive sentence and it’s certainly not going to send someone to prison in those circumstances on that charge.”
Dunedin barrister Anne Stevens echoed the sentiment, telling the New Zealand Herald that it’s “outrageous” to claim Delegat bought justice.
“It's nothing to do with his parents' wealth, it's nothing to do with the colour of his skin; it's to do with his culpability and his character,” said Stevens.
Stevens, who has been practicing for 29 years, added that other Dunedin lawyers would have achieved the same results or even would have gotten a discharge.
She also said that the conviction has serious consequences for Delegat.