Nottingham succeeds in Supreme Court sentence reduction

Dermot Nottingham has had a rare success in court. He has been successful in an appeal to the Supreme Court over the length of his second home detention sentence, which means he doesn’t have to serve any more of the sentence revised by the Court of Appeal.

This result doesn’t surprise me, as teh maximum home detention term is 12 months and Nottingham has served that in total, although it effectively means the sentence increased by the Court of Appeal has been wiped even though the original High Court sentence was found to be inadequate.

Nottingham was found by both the High Court and Court of Appeal to be largely responsible for publications on the notorious Lauda Finem website, and for campaigns of harassment against five people (I think considered by the police to be just the worst examples but I think that is debatable).

Nottingham just avoided having to serve a prison sentence both times, and although the Crown argued that the reduction of his home detention should have meant the alternative was prison, the Supreme Court disagreed.

Decision

Mr Nottingham was convicted of publishing information in breach of suppression orders and criminal harassment. On 26 July 2018, he was sentenced in the District Court to a term of 12 months’ home detention. Mr Nottingham appealed against conviction and sentence to the Court of Appeal and the Solicitor-General appealed against sentence. By the time the Court of Appeal heard the appeal, Mr Nottingham had served three and a half months of his sentence of home detention.

The Court of Appeal dismissed Mr Nottingham’s appeal against conviction and sentence. The Court allowed the Solicitor-General’s appeal, quashing the original sentence and imposing a new sentence of 12 months’ home detention.

Mr Nottingham was granted leave to appeal to the Supreme Court against
sentence. The only issue on appeal was whether the Court of Appeal erred in imposing a term of home detention which would mean that, in total, Mr Nottingham would serve 15 and a half months of home detention. The issue arose because s 80A(3) of the Sentencing Act 2002 provides that the maximum term of a sentence of home detention is 12 months.

Mr Nottingham submitted that he could not lawfully be required to serve more than 12 months’ home detention as this was the statutory maximum in s 80A(3). The Solicitor-General submitted that the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal was permissible because the Court had imposed a new sentence. In these circumstances, the Solicitor-General argued that the old sentence ceased to exist and that the new Court of Appeal sentence started on the day it was imposed.

The Supreme Court has unanimously allowed Mr Nottingham’s appeal. The Court held that s 80A(3) was clear that the maximum term of home detention that can be imposed in relation to an offence is 12 months. Therefore, the Court of Appeal did not have jurisdiction to impose a sentence of 12 months’ home detention in circumstances where Mr Nottingham had already served some time on home detention. The practical effect of the Court of Appeal’s decision was that Mr Nottingham would have to serve more than 12 months’ home detention, contrary to the maximum in s 80A(3).

In order to get to a position where Mr Nottingham’s sentence did not exceed the statutory maximum, the Supreme Court exercised its powers to vary sentences under the Criminal Procedure Act 2011. It did so by varying the sentence imposed by the Court of Appeal to a sentence of eight and a half months’ home detention with a backdated start date of 30 July 2019.

Supreme Court judgment: Dermot Gregory Nottingham v R

Court of Appeal judgment: NOTTINGHAM v R [2019] NZCA 344 [30 July 2019]

Both the High Court and Court of Appeal sentences seemed a bit contrived, both arriving at a 24 month prison sentence which is the maximum that can be converted to 12 months home detention.

The Court of Appeal stated:

The sentence was premised on the following findings of fact which we agree were consistent with the jury’s verdicts:

(a) Mr Nottingham either was LF (in other words the leading mind of that
blog) or he was so intimately related to it that it was proper to conclude
that he provided information and draft articles to that blog knowing and
intending that they would be published.

(b) Publication and other intimidating and harassing conduct was either
carried out by Mr Nottingham himself or at his direction and he knew
his conduct was likely to cause the individuals involved to fear for their
safety or that of family members.

(c) Although Mr Nottingham may, at least initially, have reasonably
believed he had legitimate grievances in respect of the complainants,
he elected to pursue these, not by lawful and reasonable means, but by
personal attacks on an “anything goes” basis.

With multiple charges and different offences sentencing can be complicated.

Based on seven convictions the High Court judge arrived at a total sentence of 2 years and 4 months prison but gave a 4 month deduction:

…to reflect what he described as Mr Nottingham’s “multi-faceted and complex” health problems s, which in the Judge’s view meant that a sentence of imprisonment would be much harder for him than for an average middle-aged man in reasonable health. He identified this as the only mitigating factor resulting in a provisional end sentence of two years’ imprisonment.

That required the judge to consider replacing that with a 1 year home detention sentence, which he did.

He said he regarded home detention as an appropriate and sufficient response, particularly because of the ability to impose restrictive conditions limiting Mr Nottingham’s activities and assisting his rehabilitation.

Special conditions were imposed including that Mr Nottingham attend
counselling or treatment programmes as directed by a probation officer and that he not use any electronic device capable of accessing the internet without prior approval from a probation officer.

Mr Nottingham said that the sentences should be commuted to time served (three and a half months home detention) and without the requirement for community work on the primary ground that the LF articles on which the harassment charges were based were “not designed to make anyone fear for their safety”.

By contrast, the Crown submitted the sentence was manifestly inadequate and that nothing less than a custodial sentence is sufficient to capture the level of denunciation and deterrence required for what it says was an egregious breach of non-publication orders and malicious and misogynistic attacks on members of the public

The Court of Appeal agreed that Nottingham’s various health issues needed to be taken into account and justified the 4 month reduction in sentence, despite the lack of remorse – he continued to blame others for his attacks on them.

But they arrived at a longer sentence of 31 months imprisonment, which in itself is too much to qualify him for home detention.

But they also had to take into account the 3 and a half months home detention Nottingham had also served, which equates to 7 months prison. So lo and behold, deducting that from the sentence it came to 24 months prison to be served, which again brought home detention into play. So it was converted to 12 months home detention again, but as the Supreme Court found, he shouldn’t serve the 3 and a half months plus the 12 months.

So in total Nottingham served 12 months home detention for a 31 month prison sentence. Such is our judicial system.

I don’t have a problem with him not serving prison time (although other victims of his harassment may have different ideas on that).

But time will tell whether the sentence served will deter Nottingham from further harassment.

We encourage the Department of Corrections Community Probation Service to consider a requirement that Mr Nottingham attend such counselling or courses as would assist him in management of his PTSD and in his incipient understanding (as recorded by the Judge) that his abrasive and combative approach to others may, in part, be consequential on this diagnosis.

His abrasive and combative approach is still apparent. While serving home detention and being banned from internet use Nottingham managed to start legal proceedings against Jacinda Ardern and Ashley Bloomfield:

In doing so, Mr Nottingham has engaged in political comments of a personalised nature, particularly against the Prime Minister.

See  NOTTINGHAM v ARDERN [2020] NZCA 144 [4 May 2020].

But this isn’t the end of this case. Nottingham is still subject to six months of post detention conditions which according to his original sentencing notes and reiterated by the Supreme Court – “The standard and special
post-detention conditions imposed by the Court of Appeal remain in place for the remainder of the 12-month and six-month post-detention periods respectively” – which mirror his home detention conditions, which include:

(a) That you attend an assessment for counselling, treatment or programme as directed by a probation officer. That you attend and complete any counselling, treatment or programme as recommended by the assessment as directed by and to the satisfaction of a probation officer.

(b) You are not to associate with or contact any victim or witness of your offending without prior written approval of a probation officer, except in relation to … in relation to current proceedings. Again, the rider that it must be approved by a probation officer will cover the means by which that correspondence is to be carried out, just for the avoidance of confusion.

(c) You are not to possess or use any electronic device capable of accessing the Internet for capturing, storing, accessing or distributing images (including without limitation any personal computers, notebooks,
tablets or cellphones) without prior written approval from a probation
officer.

So those conditions are still in place for six months (I’m not sure when from).

Previous Post
Leave a comment

1 Comment

  1. Duker

     /  1st August 2020

    Sentence reduction in theory only , as his earlier appeals meant his sentence had been increased – technically past the maximum allowed for home detention. He ended with the original sentence but had a served more than that so his secondary sentence of community work was remitted.

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s