Judge slates university’s ‘perplexing’ stance

A judge has criticised as “hypocritical” an assertion by Waikato University’s Faculty of Education that it would expel a student if she was convicted of a serious assault.

The judge’s remarks came during a hearing in Gisborne District Court of an application by Skye Ella Hutchings, 18, to be discharged without conviction for assault with a blunt instrument to which she had pleaded guilty.

The judge granted the application because of advice he received in an affidavit from the faculty’s associate dean of Teacher Education, Beverley Cooper.

He was critical of that advice, saying it was extraordinary to receive such information from a university. It cut across any question of fairness or consideration at all.

Whether a conviction affected someone’s registration for a profession was normally a decision for a statutory body — in this case the Teachers Council.

Police prosecutor Claire Stewart agreed. She would initially have opposed the application on the basis that the court should not assume the role of those statutory bodies.

But the associate dean’s affidavit meant Hutchings would not be allowed to continue studying, so would never be considered for registration by the Teachers Council.

On that basis, police had to concede the consequences of conviction for Hutchings would be very serious.

Ms Stewart and the judge noted the university seemed more concerned about a conviction than they did the offence itself.

Hutchings and a male friend were drinking together on February 2 when she took offence at text messages she had seen between him and her ex-boyfriend.

She was in close range when she hurled a can of beer at the young man, fracturing his right eye socket and impairing his vision. He needed immediate surgery.

Hutchings initially lied to police, saying she was 30 metres away when she threw the can and that it was a reaction to the victim pushing her and calling her offensive names. She also claimed his injuries might have been caused when he rubbed her head against barbed wire.

That was a “worrying” feature of the offence, Judge Mill said. Also concerning was the derogatory way in which Hutchings had replied when she received a communication from the man in which he had tried to illicit an apology from her.

Hutchings said she was willing to attend restorative justice but the man declined, clearly viewing it as too little, too late, the judge said.

The victim did not accept his texts or comments he made that night were insulting.

The effects of the assault on him were huge – he was seriously hurt and had missed significant amounts of school and work, and the chance to further pursue and develop his recognised talent for basketball.

Hutchings had been remorseless and continued to make negative comments about him. Instead of taking responsibility for her offending, she blamed him. He had not had the opportunity to respond to allegations she made about him in her affidavit in support of this application.

Against that, the court had to consider Hutchings’ lack of previous convictions or any involvement in other conflicts leading to police inquiries.

She, too, had some outstanding personal talents, particularly with past swimming and lifesaving achievements.

She was young and young people could be excused to some extent for their behaviour, the judge said.

She had told the court she had wanted to be a primary school teacher for as long as she could remember. The effects of conviction on her, given the university’s “perplexing” stance, would be out of all proportion to the offending, the judge said.

Hutchings’ actions were a momentary lapse of judgement and control not typical of her character, Judge Mill ruled.

He did not know if Hutchings would ultimately have to disclose the offending to the Teachers Council.

In submissions, counsel Leighvi Maynard said Hutchings was apologetic but bail conditions had precluded her from contacting the victim other than through the restorative justice process.

Mr Maynard pointed to a comparable case in which an applicant seeking a discharge for assault with intent to injure, could have continued his teaching studies but there was evidence that a conviction would have minimised his chances of employment as a teacher in New Zealand.

A judge has criticised as “hypocritical” an assertion by Waikato University’s Faculty of Education that it would expel a student if she was convicted of a serious assault.

The judge’s remarks came during a hearing in Gisborne District Court of an application by Skye Ella Hutchings, 18, to be discharged without conviction for assault with a blunt instrument to which she had pleaded guilty.

The judge granted the application because of advice he received in an affidavit from the faculty’s associate dean of Teacher Education, Beverley Cooper.

He was critical of that advice, saying it was extraordinary to receive such information from a university. It cut across any question of fairness or consideration at all.

Whether a conviction affected someone’s registration for a profession was normally a decision for a statutory body — in this case the Teachers Council.

Police prosecutor Claire Stewart agreed. She would initially have opposed the application on the basis that the court should not assume the role of those statutory bodies.

But the associate dean’s affidavit meant Hutchings would not be allowed to continue studying, so would never be considered for registration by the Teachers Council.

On that basis, police had to concede the consequences of conviction for Hutchings would be very serious.

Ms Stewart and the judge noted the university seemed more concerned about a conviction than they did the offence itself.

Hutchings and a male friend were drinking together on February 2 when she took offence at text messages she had seen between him and her ex-boyfriend.

She was in close range when she hurled a can of beer at the young man, fracturing his right eye socket and impairing his vision. He needed immediate surgery.

Hutchings initially lied to police, saying she was 30 metres away when she threw the can and that it was a reaction to the victim pushing her and calling her offensive names. She also claimed his injuries might have been caused when he rubbed her head against barbed wire.

That was a “worrying” feature of the offence, Judge Mill said. Also concerning was the derogatory way in which Hutchings had replied when she received a communication from the man in which he had tried to illicit an apology from her.

Hutchings said she was willing to attend restorative justice but the man declined, clearly viewing it as too little, too late, the judge said.

The victim did not accept his texts or comments he made that night were insulting.

The effects of the assault on him were huge – he was seriously hurt and had missed significant amounts of school and work, and the chance to further pursue and develop his recognised talent for basketball.

Hutchings had been remorseless and continued to make negative comments about him. Instead of taking responsibility for her offending, she blamed him. He had not had the opportunity to respond to allegations she made about him in her affidavit in support of this application.

Against that, the court had to consider Hutchings’ lack of previous convictions or any involvement in other conflicts leading to police inquiries.

She, too, had some outstanding personal talents, particularly with past swimming and lifesaving achievements.

She was young and young people could be excused to some extent for their behaviour, the judge said.

She had told the court she had wanted to be a primary school teacher for as long as she could remember. The effects of conviction on her, given the university’s “perplexing” stance, would be out of all proportion to the offending, the judge said.

Hutchings’ actions were a momentary lapse of judgement and control not typical of her character, Judge Mill ruled.

He did not know if Hutchings would ultimately have to disclose the offending to the Teachers Council.

In submissions, counsel Leighvi Maynard said Hutchings was apologetic but bail conditions had precluded her from contacting the victim other than through the restorative justice process.

Mr Maynard pointed to a comparable case in which an applicant seeking a discharge for assault with intent to injure, could have continued his teaching studies but there was evidence that a conviction would have minimised his chances of employment as a teacher in New Zealand.