Friday 21 October 2016

Colette Browne: Unlikely courts would be so lenient on man from poor background who beat up a woman

Published 29/01/2014 | 02:30

A violent man without money is much more likely to end up in prison. iStockphoto
A violent man without money is much more likely to end up in prison. iStockphoto

IF you're thinking about physically attacking your wife or girlfriend, just make sure you have €10,000 on deposit – because that's how much it will cost to buy your way out of a conviction.

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That's what we learned from the courts last week, when a trainee doctor who twice beat up his girlfriend, leaving her with injuries "consistent with being punched, kicked, bitten and grabbed", had two serious assault charges struck out after paying €10,000 to charity.

The court heard that Rudrumun Gopal (21), a student at the Royal College of Surgeons (RCSI), was "utterly infatuated" with his girlfriend, who was "the woman of his dreams".

Patently, these feelings of infatuation didn't last very long because Gopal first attacked his girlfriend just three months into the start of their relationship, in March 2012.

Defence barrister Justin McQuade explained that his client had "difficulties and frustrations associated with relationships" and he became "slightly controlling and his frustrations spilled out".

These frustrations spilled out again the following month when Gopal attacked his girlfriend, a fellow medical student, a second time.

In mitigation, the court heard that Gopal is from a "family of high achievers", although what his family background has to do with him using his girlfriend as a punch bag is something of a mystery.

If it's contended that only poor or working-class men beat up the women in their lives, a trip to any women's refuge in the country would quickly dispel that notion.

Mr McQuade also said that his client had little experience of women, the inference apparently being that someone with the intellect to study medicine was somehow too dense to know that punching, biting and kicking another human being was wrong.

Happily, Gopal, having twice savagely attacked his girlfriend, finally "came to his senses", repented and wrote a letter of apology to his victim.

It is unclear if this crisis of conscience was in any way prompted by the criminal charges that he found himself facing or the disciplinary proceedings that were instituted against him by the RCSI.

In any event, Judge Hugh O'Donnell was clearly moved by the story of this naive young man and ordered him to pay €5,000 to both the Simon Community and Women's Aid, before striking the charges out, as if the assaults had never happened.

He also recommended that the RCSI refrain from expelling Gopal so that his bright future remains unblemished by recent unpleasantness.

After all, wouldn't it be awful if a nice middle-class young man had his future dreams of working as a doctor derailed by the small matter of repeatedly assaulting a woman he claimed to love?

Evidently, in Ireland in 2014, justice is for sale. If you happen to have the requisite funds to buy yourself good legal representation, with enough left in the kitty to make a substantial donation to charity, then you're off the hook.

If Gopal was unemployed and from Ballymun, from a family with a history of welfare dependency, would the judge have been so lenient?

How would the judge have calibrated the requisite level of contrition for the assaults if he had been unable to arbitrarily affix a monetary value of €5,000 on each one?

Would a man without any money be sentenced to hundreds of hours of community service or would he instead be left with a conviction and serving a prison sentence?

In 2011, a man who seriously assaulted his partner on one occasion in Galway received an 11-month sentence from a district court for a first offence.

But that was different. He didn't come to court with his pockets bulging with cash, so was unable to buy back his good name.

The case is particularly egregious when one considers the thousands of otherwise law-abiding citizens who appear before the courts every year for the crime of not having any money.

Last year, more than 8,300 people were jailed for the non-payment of court-ordered fines, with 242 people being jailed for failing to pay fines imposed for not having a TV licence.

So in this country you can expect a jail sentence if you can't afford to pay your TV licence but have carte blanche to assault your partner if you can come up with a sizeable charitable donation.

What kind of message does sentencing like this send out about the seriousness with which these insidious crimes are viewed by the criminal justice system?

Perhaps Judge O'Donnell is unaware, but incidences of domestic violence are growing at an alarming rate, with applications to the courts under domestic violence legislation soaring by 19pc between 2011 and 2012.

Now, the message has gone out that punching and kicking your partner isn't too bad, as long as you remember to save up for the pleasure of inflicting a beating beforehand.

The court, in effect, itemised the cost of every single bruise, cut and scar that Gopal's ex-girlfriend suffered at his hands and came up with a nice round figure of €10,000.

After he handed the money over, his debt to society was immediately paid.

Will it be so easy for the young woman he victimised to move on?

Irish Independent

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