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Jonesse’ five-year term trimmed by forgiving judge

NUKUALOFA, Tonga (Matangi Tonga, Sept. 30, 2011) – John Jonesse, who was serving five years imprisonment in Tonga's Huatolitoli Prison for conviction arising from the tragedy of the sinking of the MV Princess Ashika ferry, was released immediately this afternoon, September 30 following a successful appeal against the length of his sentence.

Jonesse (62), who appeared in court looking well but having visibly lost weight since he was imprisoned six months ago, will return to New Zealand tomorrow.

His release came after the Court of Appeal's second session for 2011 presided over by Justice James Burchett, Justice Peter Salmon and Justice Michael Moore, upheld Jonesse's appeal against sentence.

In a judgment delivered at 2:00pm in Nuku'alofa, the Court of Appeal was satisfied that the sentence imposed was manifestly excessive. They withdrew the initial five years imprisonment sentence for manslaughter by negligence and replaced it with three years and six months sentence, with the last three years to be suspended for three years.

This new sentence is imposed concurrently, meaning three years and six months in total with the last three years suspended. This meant that Jonesse, who had already served six months at Hu'atolitoli Prison in Tongatapu, was entitled to be released today, the Court of Appeal ruled.

The former Managing Director of the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia Ltd., Jonesse,a New Zealander was originally sentenced by Justice Robert Shuster on April 4 to a total of five years imprisonment with no suspension whatsoever, on eight counts, including one of manslaughter by negligence, five counts of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea, forgery, and knowingly dealing with a forged document in relation to an Audit Report by David Shaw.

The Appeal Court was advised by counsel, that the Crown was prepared to concede that, at worst, the appellant's blameworthiness was no greater than that of the captain of the vessel and that his sentence should be no great than that imposed on the captain. The Crown also conceded that it was difficult for a person with no background knowledge of shipping to go behind the certificate of seaworthiness issued b the appropriate authority.

Counsel Laki Niu for the appellant, submitted that in the circumstances the term of imprisonment imposed was excessive particularly in relation to the sentences imposed on others charged with offences related to the sinking of the ferry. Jonesse was a first offender and the convictions meant that he was unlikely to be employed again in positions comparable tot those which had formerly held. His family was in New Zealand.

Meanwhile, the Commissioner of Prisons Sione Falemanu confirmed to Matangi Tonga Online this afternoon, that he had received a court order on the Court of Appeal's judgment that they had accepted Jonesse's appeal and for him to be released immediately today.

He said that at 4pm today Jonesse arrived at prison to gather up his belongings and to say his farewell.

He was understood to be flying out of Tonga tonight to return to his family in New Zealand. "The order is for his full release from prison so he can also return back home to New Zealand," said the Commissioner of Prisons.

Jonesse had in April also received sentences of four years imprisonment on each of the additional five counts of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea.

The Court of Appeal again withdrew those sentences and replaced with sentences of three years and six months in each case with a corresponding period of suspension. There was no need to make any change to the remaining two sentences that were each of six months imprisonment, they ruled.

"This would have the effect that Jonesse will be entitled to immediate release when this judgement is handed down," the Appeal Court judgement stated.

[PIR editor’s note: Meanwhile, Radio New Zealand International reports separately, Tonga’s Appeal Court has halved the fines handed down to the Shipping Corporation of Polynesia for its part in the sinking of the Princess Ashika. The company was convicted on five counts of sending an unseaworthy ship to sea and one charge of manslaughter by negligence, resulting in fines of two million pa’anga, or about US$1 million. .BroadCom Radio 89.5FM’s Monalisa Palu says the fine for the manslaughter charge has been upheld. However the 200,000 dollar fine for each of the five other charges have been reduced to a nominal fee of 100 pa’anga – US$50 - and the Court said that whether or not Shipping Corporation of Polynesia’s able to pay this is a different matter, "it was more to send out a message to agencies and to those who are responsible for others to be more careful and to take heed when they take on these responsibilities." ]


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