‘$600 per person is not acceptable’


A judge has to trust an Indian woman to voluntarily pay $1800 in reparation from home - as the justice system again struggles to deal with holidaymakers.

Queenstown court judge Mark Callaghan presided over two cases earlier this week where tourists’ short time in the country led to awkward compromises.

Indian Sapna Deepak Mehta, 26, was convicted on two charges of careless driving causing injury after she pulled out on a motorbike in Rotorua last Wednesday.

The driver broke his ankle and wrist, while the pillion passenger shattered her knee and broke her leg - needing two operations to insert plates and screws.

But cash-strapped Mehta only had $1200 for reparation and was due to leave the country today.

Callaghan was incredulous.

“Have you read the victim impact statement?” he asked her lawyer Bryce Whiting.

“You better have a look at it because $600 per person for these injuries is not acceptable.”

After three stand-downs, including overnight Monday, while inquiries were made about her access to funds, or whether travel insurance would cover the reparation, Callaghan had little wiggle room.

He ordered Mehta to pay $1000 to the driver and $200 to the pillion passenger immediately, with another $1800 to be paid to the passenger from India at $100 a month.

Her rental car insurance covered the damage to the vehicles.

He also disqualified Mehta from driving on New Zealand roads for six months.

In another case, Australian-based Kiwi car dealer Gordon Bruce McPherson, 39, took a conviction for common assault so he could return home.

Duty lawyer Liam Collins says McPherson wanted to apply for a discharge without conviction, but his business in Australia would lose $5000 to $6000 a day without him at the helm so he needed to return home while on bail.

Unfortunately for him, NZ district courts are forbidden from taking bonds, so McPherson took the conviction.

He was fined $500 for the minor assault and refused name suppression, although permanent name suppression was granted for his victim.

The cases highlight the difficulties of dealing with people who are, as Collins put it, “in the country for a good time, not a long time”.

In 2013, then-regular Queenstown judge Kevin Phillips admitted he’d been hamstrung by setting a precedent of heavy fines for tourists convicted of serious offences as an alternative to home detention.