Anger over New Zealand court leniency on Maori king’s son draws fire
New Zealand's courts face criticism after the son of the Maori king escaped conviction on theft and drink-driving charges because it could jeopardise his chances of inheriting the title.
Korotangi Paki, 19, pleaded guilty to the charges but a judge discharged him without conviction on Thursday, saying he needed an "unblemished" record if he was to succeed his father, King Tuheitia.
Critics said the decision amounted to special treatment for the young royal and other indigenous New Zealanders were not treated so leniently by the court system.
"It is time, perhaps, that judges come back to this planet and recognise that their job is to apply justice equally to everybody," former Maori affairs minister Dover Samuels, who has an indigenous background, told commercial radio.
Auckland University law professor Bill Hodge said the courts should not make decisions based on the impact they could have on succession planning.
"That is up to the Maori authorities in question, not a matter of New Zealand law and to that extent is one law for common people and another law for royalty," Hodge said. "That is not equal opportunity and it is not democratic."
Maori make up about 15 per cent of New Zealand's population but are over-represented in the justice system, comprising more than 50 per cent of the prisons population.
Tukuroirangi Morgan, a spokesman for the Maori king, welcomed the decision and said the young royal's high profile because of his family meant he would bear the shame of his actions for the rest of his life.
"People get sent to jail and can then forget about it, shame in the Maori world is an onerous and serious consequence that one has to carry, that's inescapable," he told Radio New Zealand.
King Tuheitia, who worked as a truck driver before his coronation in 2006, is descended from the first Maori king, Potatau Te Wherowhero.
The role was created in 1858 by various North Island tribes which wanted a single figure to represent them.