The (legal) case of a missing comma

Maythem Kamil Radhi has been admitted as a refugee into New Zealand where he currently resides. But Maythem (a name very appropriate in this context) is also wanted in Australia in connection with a tragic people-smuggling episode. In October 2001, 353 refugees seeking asylum died when their overcrowded boat sank off Indonesian coast en route to Australia. Maythem is allegedly the one who arranged the sailing.

Refugees in New Zealand are subject to extradition so you may think there should be no problem with getting Mr Radhi to Brisbane for questioning by the Australian authorities. If they are sought in connection with crimes which in New Zealand carry a potential sentence of 12 months or more they will be delivered to the jurisdiction seeking the extradition. So, on the plane he hops to face the Brisbane magistrate – or does he?

The New Zealand’s Immigration Act 1987, in force in 2001, made illegal trafficking of people into New Zealand an offense:

“liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding $5000 for each person … “

Well, with 353 people involved the 12 months sentence threshold should easily be reached, sending Mr Radhi on a taxpayer funded trans-Tasman trip? Not so fast. Have a close look at the wording of the sentence above. If it read (as it should have but did not):

“liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding three months, or to a fine not exceeding $5000, for each person … “

there would be no doubt that the 3 months potential sentence is multiplied by the headcount of those being smuggled but without the comma the meaning is different. The actual wording implies that the $5000 fine is multiplied by the number of the persons smuggled but the prison sentence is not. This was spotted by an eagle-eyed lawyer of Mr Radhi and used to successfully appeal the extradition order.

Next time your child complains about being marked down for punctuation at school get them to read this post.


Leave a Reply

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

You are commenting using your 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 )

Google+ photo

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

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: