The leftward and other blatherings of Span (now with Snaps!)

Wednesday, July 18, 2007

The First XV Mentality

And so once again we have an All Black "Great" called to defend the character of a man charged with a serious crime, as if an All Black's ability to judge the criminality or otherwise of someone was better than the average bear.

Last time it was Steve McDowell attempting to back-up his dear friend Clint Rickards*, now it's Sean Fitzpatrick defending his mate Richard Kroon who is accused of kidnapping a business associate. I have no opinion on the guilt or otherwise of Mr Kroon**, as I know nothing about the case, but I don't see how putting an All Black on the stand, and of course therefore on the front page of the Herald, should be anymore important than having your neighbour Mrs Scroggs there to say she's always found you to be a bang-up solid chap.

What is it with us Kiwis and our First XV mentality, that we some how think that because someone is good at rugger they are therefore a higher class of being? Many of us will have experienced this phenomenon at high school - where the First XV were often above laws and rules and able to revel in their perceived social and moral superiority with impunity. Let me cite Sitiveni Sivivatu's discharge without conviction for domestic violence as a recent grown-up example of this ridiculousness.

Don't get me wrong; I actually like rugby. Those who know me in real life will generally be aware of my passion for Harbour,*** my odd affection for low profile past players like Terry Wright, Matt Cardy and Frano Botica (before he went to league), and my inability to actually watch a test anymore because I get too uptight about the outcome.

But loving the game doesn't mean I have to put my brain in reverse and devolve back to a time when people took the words of the monarch or the priest as Truth just cos they came from his hallowed lips. Surely?

* Maia put it well in regard to that police rape case: "I just hope the jury is smart enough to see through these nonsensical theatrics and understand that even friends of ex-All Blacks can rape people."
** As opposed to my rather strident views about the guilt of Clint Rickards, Brad Shipton and Bob Schollum.
** Current holders of the Ranfurly Shield. Gotta get that in while I still can.


A. J. Chesswas said...

nice post... full credit to Fitzpatrick for his skills as a hooker and All Black captain, but why would anyone take that combover seriously??

Insolent Prick said...

What a load of anti-rugby tripe.

Character witnesses are used all the time. Character witnesses usually have a degree of personal integrity, which they put on the line every time they vouch for somebody. Almost invariably, a character witness is a respected member of the community. Sean Fitzpatrick happens to be pretty widely respected.

Rich said...

In some ways it's good that they're not like Premiership soccer players - who are such a bunch of chavs that nobody in their right mind would use one as a character witness.

On the name suppression thing, I think this widely abused in NZ. I think it should be simplified:
- all defendants get name suppression before conviction unless they opt out or the interests of justice prevent it
- nobody gets name suppression once convicted except for child protection or to avoid prejudicing another trial, etc.

Span said...

So IP is it not possible to like rugby but be critical of some of the associated culture? Honestly, you seem to see things so much in black and white.

I have no problem with character witnesses. But I do have a problem with the idea that having a All Black as a character witness is some kind of trump card, that is guaranteed to get you favourable front page news coverage. Certainly having a Silver Fern as a character witness would never have the same impact. You shouldn't get some kind of special treatment because you are an All Black - if you are a respected member of the community, fine, but simply having been an All Black shouldn't guarantee that status.

Insolent Prick said...

You're talking out of your pinko arse, Span. Kroon had a retired judge as a character witness as well, among others. The case doesn't just come down to Fitzy showing up.

There are plenty of former All Blacks who wouldn't be used as character witnesses. Richard Loe in an ear-biting case, for example. Keith Murdoch in an assault case. Norm Hewitt in a public drunkenness case.

Character witnesses are used to attest to a defendant's character. They are generally people of high public standing. It is litigation's equivalent of a public endorsement.

Would it be similarly wrong for Ed Hillary to express an opinion about somebody? Do I see you complaining about Trevor Mallard using Tana Umaga to front a "spend time with your kids" campaign, just because Tana is a retired All Black?

Stephen said...

But there you are IP. You said it yourself, in your choice of examples.

Judges are presumed to be people of moral integrity, and indeed of moral judgement. That's the basis on which we are supposed to be impressed by their use as a character witness. If Ed Hillary were to be called, that would be because he is known to be a person of great integrity and moral character, not because he climbed Everest. You don't call random famous people, you call people who are famously believable when they say "X is a good bloke".

All Blacks on the other hand have no special claim to be able to assess character.

Span is asking whether merely being an All Black should make someone deserve our trust, and the answer is pretty clearly "no". So what is it about Fitzpatrick, apart from being an All Black, that makes him credible witness?

Mallard and Umaga isn't a parallel, because that's marketing, not a legal case - emotional persuasion isn't the same as presenting an argument.

No argument that All Blacks are respected members of the community - of course they are. Should that respect carry over into areas outside their rugby prowess? Nope.

Insolent Prick said...

Political endorsements are implied all the time by a range of public figures, including sports people. I don't actually see the difference between Ed Hillary sticking up his hand and being part of the Citizen's for Rowling campaign (and thereby attesting to Rowling's character without payment), and acting as a character witness in a criminal trial.

Sean Fitzpatrick is regarded to have a high degree of personal integrity. A big part of that, admittedly, is his reign as All Black captain. But you can't separate the feats of public figures, and the feats that made them public figures, and the public perception of their moral character.

What I'm objecting to is Span's claim that Fitzy was called because we have a supposed First XV culture. That is demonstrably bullshit. There are All Blacks of good public standing, and of low public standing. Those of high public standing are called on to give endorsements/speak for a product/vouch for a person's character. Every time a public figure makes that endorsement--whether paid or not--they are putting their own credibility on the line.

It simply isn't true that All Blacks are regularly called upon as character witnesses, and that they somehow have greater influence than other public figures.

Nigel Kearney said...

Fitzpatrick was in the newspaper because he's an All Black but who knows whether he was called as a character witness for that reason? Certainly non-famous people get called as character witnesses all the time.

And the issue is not usually the integrity or judgment of that witness. They could be lying of course, but usually the jury accepts that all the good things described by the witness really did happen.

The issue is whether the defendant, in addition to the good things said about them, also, unknown to the character witness, did the bad thing they are accused of. The integrity and judgment of the character witness has little bearing on that.

peterquixote said...

fair go dude yous not kidding us about this at all. check this,or click name

Cheezy said...

If I was a member of a jury and old 'Fitzy' was called on to speak, I'd probably fall asleep like I used to do whenever he was interviewed. A shockingly dull fellow.

Anonymous said...

I was a member of a jury and a very famous nz athelete was called as a character witness. I don't think any of the jury were persuaded one way or the other. The fact remains did the person accused commit the offence or not? Not - "Is this person known by someone who is well known?