There appears to be a lot of sympathy for Nick Smith going by media reaction to date. I’d actually forgotten he had actually personally paid thousands of dollars of legal fees for the family to convince them to not act outside the law. That is on top of the cost of defending the contempt case which he had to mortgage his house to help cover.
Most MPs have been very supportive (partly knowing it could have been them). The Greens and United Future especially as well as his traditional colleagues.
The real creep has been Winston Peters who has been showing his nasty side a lot lately. He had the temerity to chastise Dr Smith saying his behaviour was unacceptable and you can’t act this way. The hypocrisy being that Winston Peters has defamed more New Zealanders than any other MP with wild reckless attacks, often without a shred of proof. But he has cowered behind parliamentary privilege (except one time when he got done for defamation) to protect himself.
The issue being debated by lawyers is whether contempt of court is a crime with maximum penalty over two years, or to quote exactly Parargraph (d) of Section 55(1) of the Electoral Act 1993:
“If he or she is convicted of a crime punishable by imprisonment for a term of 2 years or upwards”
The lawyers seem to be split quite evenly on the issue. I am not a lawyer but for my 2 cents worth I agree with Richard Prebble and think that it is not covered.
Nick was charged with the common law offence of contempt of court. What is interesting is that the Crimes Act 1956 does also have a specific statute offence of contempt in Section 401. It deals with abusing in court the Judge or other official, obstructing the Court, intimidating witnesses etc. The maximum penalty is $1,000 fine or three months jail is the fine is not paid.
Section 401(3) notes “Nothing in this section shall limit or affect any power or authority of the Court to punish any person for contempt of Court in any case to which this section does not apply”
I would have thought the worse contempt was one where you jump up in Court and yell the Judge shags sheep (as an example), compared to allegedly pressuring a Judge through the media, but the former has a very small maximum fine and the letter no maximum penalty.