Tuesday, January 22, 2019

This isn't justice

Robert Roper is a rapist and child abuser. In addition to raping his own children, he raped and harassed women at his workplace, RNZAF Whenuapai, crimes which the air force effectively covered up. After his conviction, one of his victims tried to sue the air force for failing to protect her - a case which necessarily involved Roper. And as a result of that, she now has to pay him $28,000. Not because she lost on the merits - the court explicitly found that she was repeatedly harassed and groped by Roper and locked in a cage by him - but because the law sets a time limit on civil claims.

The judge was clear that the law didn't give them any other option: the time limit means the case must fail, and costs must be paid by the loser. There are good reasons for these laws. But at the same time, this isn't justice. In fact, its the complete opposite. And it sets a terrible incentive for anyone seeking justice in the future, because if you lose, you may be bankrupted by your vindictive abuser.

As for what to do about it, there's a GiveALittle campaign here, which might help with an appeal or with paying the costs. But that's just a sticking plaster, and this seems like it needs a more systematic solution. And here, its worth noting that criminal law sets different time limits on prosecution depending on the severity of the offence, and that there's no time-limit on prosecution for serious crimes. It may be time to import that sort of thinking into civil claims for sexual harassment. The alternative is to allow the law to be known as an instrument of injustice, which directly encourages people to seek their justice by other means.