Wednesday, December 10, 2003
Judge Joe Williams has spoken out about a disturbing case involving a Stratford woman who fought back against false allegations of fraud, made by the Ministry of Social Development.
Work and Income has had its hand smacked by the High Court appeal judge after it brought prosecutions against a Taranaki woman "struggling to cope". She's struggling to cope because WINZ are unfairly persecuting her and discriminating against her.
Sonja Marie Lawson, 38, of Stratford, won her appeal against a sentence that ordered her to come up for sentencing if called upon within 12 months.
She had been convicted after a defended hearing in the Hawera District Court on three counts of using a telephone to annoy and offend.
In overturning the sentence, Justice Joseph Williams said: "It would be most unfortunate, indeed, if the ministry displayed an equal inability to cope with persons of unusual or eccentric perception. That might lead one to conclude that the ministry has also lost its sense of proportion with this individual."
Justice Williams said he accepted Lawson's aims were merely to draw attention to disputes with the three organisations.
The faxes expressed her deep frustration at the inability of those organisations to see her view.
Lawson intended to use inflammatory language to annoy, disturb and irritate so the organisations would pay attention to her plight. The language was also an accurate expression of the extreme feeling of powerlessness and frustration she was experiencing as a result of the actions of ministry staff such as Roger Wells.
In dismissing the appeal against the convictions, the judge said there was no doubt the faxes were wanton and malicious.
The judge said Lawson's counsel also appealed against the sentence, arguing the order to come up if called on was manifestly excessive.
Counsel said Lawson had been charged with further Work and Income offences the very next day she received that sentence and feared that the Ministry of Social Development would continue its campaign against her and seek to prosecute her again in order to activate the sentence.
Miss Lawson is adamant that the further charges were not laid the next day, they were laid moments after she left the Courthouse.
The Crown argued it was not manifestly excessive and the sentence was one of the lowest penalties available.
But Justice Williams said he found it "very troubling indeed" that the day after Lawson was sentenced, further Work and Income charges were laid.
The Judge may have been unaware that Police were gathering at the Court during the sentencing hearing itself, and actually arrested Ms Lawson approximately five minutes after she left the Courthouse.
It seems that they did this because the suspended sentence depended on her staying out of trouble in the future and WINZ knew that if they could get a conviction on the new matters it would trigger a recall of the suspended sentence. Dirty tricks and underhand tactics in other words.
"I fear that the ministry may be losing its own sense of proportion here.
"Miss Lawson clearly has coping issues in her life. They are reflected in the content and number of her communications with those with whom she is in conflict. And she has proved herself unable to mediate her way through these various disputes.
"In short, she feels got at."
Justice Williams said, in the circumstances, a conviction and discharge was a just outcome and he found the district court judge's sentence was manifestly excessive.
"This arises through no fault of the learned judge. He was not aware of the potential (and I accept it is only potential) impact of that sentence, given the steps the ministry subsequently took."
That aspect of the appeal was allowed. The sentence was set aside and Lawson was convicted and discharged.
Sonja Lawson is a law abiding woman who has contributed a great deal to her community. More information about her can be found at this link, and also this link.
It is disgraceful that people like David Farrar find these matters to be fodder for their amusement and ridicule. The misleading article was published on the day of Sonja's father's funeral, details of which were published in the same paper, the Taranaki News, and the publication of the report caused extreme distress at a time when she was very vulnerable. It's worth scrolling down at the Farrar site and reading Sonja's response to his 'work'. She's right. We've got some of the highest rates of suicide in the world and Farrar's bullying is uncalled for, unwarranted, and absolutely disgraceful.