Judge pushes for stiffer penalties

A maximum fine of T$2000 for negligent driving may not be enough, according to Judge Alalatoa Rosella Viane Papali’i.

She made the suggestion during the reading of her decision regarding Rose Hope Ah Leong, who hit and killed a seven-year-old while driving last month.

Ah Leong was handed down a non-custodial sentence of twelve months’ probation and ordered to pay T$800 in court costs, $100 in probation fees and $100 in prosecution fees.

During the sentencing, Judge Alalatoa reminded the courtroom of the maximum penalties for negligent driving causing death: up T$2000 in fines, and up to five years imprisonment.

“This type of offending is on the rampant rise, and we must do something about it.

“Perhaps it is timely Parliament considers reviewing this legislation to increase the penalties as a means of deterrence,” the Judge remarked.

The penalties for traffic offending are outlined in the Traffic Ordinance Act of 1960. 

According to the Judge, they have been unchanged since then, but the road toll continues to rise.

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“The maximum fine of $2000 must be revisited as it is too low for the loss of a life,” Judge Alalatoa said.

“Times have changed and we try our best to pass sterner sentences where circumstances suit.”

The Judge reiterated that increasing the maximum fines would better reflect the severity of the offence, but each case is unique.

In the case of Ah Leong, the Judge elected not to hand down the steepest sentence she could, despite recommendations from the prosecution to do so.

 “Sentencing is not an easy exercise for any judge,” she said.

“We take into account every relevant factor to come to a sentence that best reflects the case.”

The Judge said she weighed the evidence of Ah Leong’s speed, distraction and intent, against Ah Leong’s character, lack of prior convictions, remorse and her actions after the child, Loimata Vaialofa, was killed.

“You will forever carry the burden of guilt that you have killed a child,” Judge Alalatoa told Ah Leong. 

Ah Leong and her family performed an ifoga for the Vaialofa family, and paid for all funeral and burial expenses. Ah Leong continues to visit the grieving family, the courtroom heard.

“No sentence will get rid of the guilty feeling you have, and no amount of money will bring back this child,” the Judge said.

“You have undertaken to take all responsibility for what happened, which shows the depth of remorse you feel.”

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