Criminal defence on legal aid

In 2012 I was assaulted, namely punched in the face by a person whom I was living with at the time. There was a struggle and in self-defence the person received minor lacerations to their arm. I was arrested, even though I didn’t initiate the violence, placed in the a police station cell for 7 days, never interviewed to tell my side of the story, and charged with grievous bodily harm. I was assigned a barrister, and given Legal Aid. Over the following 18 months while on bail, my barrister never came and interviewed me, as Iresided in a different part of the country to where the so-called assault happened. My barrister never took a statement of my side of the story, and many times promised to fly to my part of the country and interview me and witnesses that I had put forward.

The summary of facts created by the Police was incorrect and very important in sentencing. It stated that a 25cm knife was used in the assault. The Police never found a weapon so therefore the use of a 25cm knife was made up. I continuously told my barrister this; he never mentioned this in court. After 18 months and nearing my trial, I approached Legal Aid and aired my concerns that I was not getting the aid that was required to represent me. They approached the barrister without my permission, causing more stress. The barrister then said if I didn’t have confidence in him then he would withdraw from representing me. This caused even more stress knowing that I had only 4 weeks before the case was to be heard. Because of my lack of funds, being a beneficiary, and the fact that I lived in another part of the country to where the court cases were held, I had no choice but to continue with his representation. The Police approached the victim and told them to talk to me about doing a plea bargain, where I would get a lesser charge and promised 6 months to 8 months home detention for a charge of injury with intent to injure. I went to court and pleaded guilty to something I was not guilty of, but was forced to because of my financial situation.

I had a corrections report done, which didn’t go well also, because the person writing the report was an American probation officer who instantly took a dislike to me for some reason. The Judge ordered I be held in the part of the country [where the alleged offence took place] for a month, while a report was made by a psychiatrist. This was even though the psychiatrist had to come from another part of the country also. I should of been allowed to return to my home, where I had a mortgage and animals to look after. Luckily I had a friend who let me stay in my van on their property for a month. I was also misinformed by my barrister that, if I pleaded guilty, I would be able to get my sentencing in the part of the country I resided. This did not happen, and I had to return to the court [in the place where the alleged offence occurred]. Throughout this 18 month period on bail, I never saw my barrister even once, until the day I went to plead. He produced his documentation which I read half an hour before my plea, and when I asked about it going to trial, knowing that the victim was not even going to appear or turn up to court, he said the judge may dismiss the case or he may order it to be heard later in the year. He said that if it went to trial 3 days later, he would prepare for trial then. Because I didn’t have faith in him by this stage and that he would be able to prepare for trial in three days (two of those days were a weekend; so there was only one working day), had never interviewed my witnesses in the 18 months he had to prepare, again I panicked and pleaded guilty to something I was not guilty of.

After my plea of guilty I sacked my legal representation, and got another legal aid lawyer for the purpose of sentencing. This new lawyer talked to me more in the six weeks before sentencing than the previous barrister had, and explained the law to me more than the first one, even though the first barrister was paid $10,000 by legal aid.

I was also concerned when upon sentencing I had to sign a piece of paper presented to the judge, that I agreed with the summary of facts before sentencing, which I didn’t, but when you are in a stressful situation like mine, you are totally stressed, with no support and you believe that your lawyer is acting in your best interests. The only time throughout the whole process that I had a say was in the psychiatrist report, where I stated that I was the victim of the assault not the perpetrator, as no one was listening to me at the time of sentencing.┬áThe victim of the so-called assault wrote a letter to the Judge, stating that they had initiated the violence against me that night.

I was sentenced to 11 months home detention, because I kept seeing in the press other people being sentenced to 11 months for nearly killing someone, or stealing hundred of thousands of dollars, I decided to appeal my sentence and this was heard in the High Court. At this court there were 4 judges, and they kept on the fact of a 25cm knife. I asked my representation after the hearing to ask where this 25cm knife had kept coming from, they went and asked the prosecutor and he said the victim had drawn a picture of the knife. Well there you go, since when does a drawing of a weapon, never found, constitute your being sentenced to 11 months home detention?

I have no faith in the New Zealand justice system, it is flawed, and not there for the poorer sector of society. When you get disgusting representation what can you do. I made a complaint to the Law Society, who didn’t find any faults. I am also in the process of taking this back to the Independent Police Conduct Authority, because I want the summary of facts investigated as it is fraudulent. When you become a lawyer, please listen to the client and represent them in all honesty and integrity. My experience of the New Zealand justice system is appalling – the whole experience was a failure from beginning to end – and I don’t want others to be put in the same situation.