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Saturday, July 17, 2010

Mad judge passes cruel and inhumane sentence on boys

Mad judge passes cruel and inhumane sentence on boys

Anne Barrowclough
Last updated July 17 2010 12:01AM

For decades the cat o’nine tails has hung on the wall of police headquarters in Nuku’alofa, the capital of Tonga, a fearsome reminder of an older, more brutal time.

No one thought that the whip, a punishment reminiscent of the 18th-century Royal Navy, would be used again. But it is now at the centre of a storm in the usually tranquil kingdom after a British judge ordered two teenage boys to be flogged for burglary.

Although flogging remains on the statute books, it has been more than 30 years since anyone was whipped and it was generally understood that flogging would never be applied again.

Had the sentence been carried out, the two boys would have been stripped to the waist and handcuffed to a chair in a police cell. The cat o’nine tails, a whip made of nine lengths of knotted rope that would have been soaked overnight to ensure maximum pain, would have torn off their skin at first stroke.

“The people I whipped suffered a lot,” Kei Iongi, the police officer who performed the last two floggings on the islands, said. “I used all my strength to lay the whip on their backs. I would lift the skin at the first lash and there was always a lot of blood. They were in very great pain.”

The uproar over the sentencing in the former British protectorate has embarrassed Mr Justice Shuster, a controversial figure whose understanding of Tongan law has previously been called into question. Before arriving in 2008 he served as a prosecutor in Fiji and as a judge in Sierra Leone.

“These boys had broken into houses and stolen a lot of money from people who have very little,” he said. “I have no doubt that whipping them is barbaric but when I was at school in Wales I got the stick just for talking in class.

“A lot of people would think that the sentence I imposed was a fair punishment. Before I came here I was in West Africa and they often whipped people for crimes like burglary.”

Mr Justice Shuster, who said that he wanted to “make Tonga a better place”, added: “I don’t like people to escape from prison and attack innocent people who pay their taxes.” He has support among Tongans who feel that the judicial system is too lenient on the increasing numbers of jobless youths appearing before the courts.

William Edwards, a Tongan MP and former lawyer, said: “I have some sympathy for Mr Shuster. I don’t agree with that type of penalty but he is getting the same offenders up before him over and over again. Rehabilitation isn’t working and a lot of people think sentences should be tougher to deter these young criminals.”

The judge’s hardline views have also found favour with the Government and there is speculation that he is to be made Chief Justice, replacing the popular and highly regarded Tony Ford, who recently had his contract inexplicably cancelled.

However, Mr Shuster’s colleagues fear for the judicial system under his unpredictable rule. “Hanging is still on the statute books here, too,” Laki Niu, the president of the Tongan Law Society, said. “Robert Shuster is the sort of person who would sentence someone to hang just because it was on the law books.”

Mr Justice Shuster, who sits in the Tongan Supreme Court, sentenced Timote Fangupo and Penisimani Fa’aoa, both 17, to 13 years in jail and 6 lashes each after the boys escaped from prison and embarked on a series of break-ins. The sentence was overturned this week by the Court of Appeal, which described the judgment as cruel and inhumane. But the reversal has divided the nation, with some calling for Justice Shuster’s departure and others pushing for his promotion.

Comment: I think that this raving lunatic should be in a lunatic asylum and not sitting as a Supreme Court judge. Also, it may help if there were jobs for youths like those convicted of burglary.

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