Judge Tony Zohrab says alcohol is a key driver of crime. Photo: Sara Hollyman.

Alcohol no excuse for violence, says judge

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Judge Tony Zohrab has been a sitting judge for the past 14 years and says while things have
changed a lot since he first took to the bench, one thing remains the same – alcohol and violence
are still a huge issue.

When he takes a look at his court list for the day, he says sometimes 80 per cent of it can
be for alcohol-related offences.

“Alcohol is a huge driver of crime, a key driver.”

The Sentencing Act tells Judge Zohrab that he must take into account a range of factors when handing out a sentence.

Factors such as someone’s youth, their genuine remorse, or the steps that they’ve taken to address their issues, all affect the sentence.
“Alcohol is not a mitigating factor,” Judge Zohrab says. “It’s never a mitigating factor, it might explain why they offend but it’s not an excuse.”

Legislation also requires Judge Zohrab to consider whether there is an identifiable victim for any offence to refer it to restorative justice, a process which he says can be very powerful.

“It’s quite easy to talk about sentencing in the abstract, you know, someone’s punched someone and broken their jaw on Bridge St. Some people would think that they need to be hung, drawn and quartered and they need to go straight to prison but often you’d be surprised about the approach of victims when they get to meet an offender.

“Through the restorative justice process they get to understand why the offender’s like that, they might find out the offender comes from a troubled background, difficult circumstances and often they’ll be quite understanding, and their views will change when they’ve met the person.”

He says to stamp out violence you’ve got to start young.

“With education; people have got to understand that there’s no excuse for violence.

“New Zealand is often thought of as a friendly country with friendly people, so how is it that we’ve got this seemingly significant amount of violent behaviour?”

He says sometimes it can be a long process for people to realise that alcohol is a problem.

“I’ll look at their criminal history and I’ll see wilful damage, fighting in a public place, disorderly behaviour, common assault, and it’s like you can almost smell the alcohol on their criminal record. They tell me they don’t have a problem with alcohol, but I mean who are they trying to kid?”

Judge Zohrab says it’s difficult to deal with the alcohol factor.

“It’s tricky. I mean I like to drink, I like alcohol, I don’t get violent … It’s socially acceptable, we try and offer as much help as we can, but it is a huge driver of crime.”