Godsiff v R Hc Ble

JurisdictionNew Zealand
CourtHigh Court
JudgeMallon J
Judgment Date22 Nov 2011
Neutral Citation[2011] NZHC 1693
Docket NumberCRI 2011-406-18

[2011] NZHC 1693


CRI 2011-406-18

Jason Trevor Godsiff
The Crown

G Sawyer for the Appellant

J Ongley for the Respondent



Mr Godsiff appeals against his sentence of two years’ imprisonment on his conviction for wilful ill-treatment of animals (s 28(1)(b) and (3)(a) of the Animal Welfare Act 1999). The appeal is on the grounds that the sentence is manifestly excessive and that the District Court failed to consider properly whether a sentence of home detention was appropriate.

Circumstances of the offending

The conviction relates to the killing of 23 seals, eight of which were pups and some were just days old. 1 The seals were part of a colony at Ohau Point, north of Kaikoura which began to establish itself in that area in about 1991. The seals in that area are much admired and are a significant tourism draw card in the area, bringing considerable benefits to the community. The local runanga and iwi acknowledge the seals as toanga (treasured) species which have played an important part in their history.


There is no suggestion that the seals had caused any disturbance or interference to Mr Godsiff and his associate. Mr Godsiff and his associate (who was Mr Godsiff's employer for a period), had spent the week of 22 November 2010 working at a salmon farm in North Canterbury. On Friday 26 November 2010 they were on their way home to Blenheim. In the course of the drive home they discussed killing the seals. They discussed that the seals were pests which depleted fishing stocks, a view which they thought was held by many others who fish or hunt. Upon arrival at Ohau Point, they took galvanised pipes out of their work vehicle. They used the pipes to club the seals to death, apparently striking the seals’ heads quickly two to three times. They used work head lamps, also obtained from their vehicle, to help them see as they went about killing the seals.


The dead seals were found by Department of Conservation staff and researchers a few days later. There followed widespread community shock and condemnation. The media attention led to Mr Godsiff speaking to his friends about the incident. Through talking amongst the community his name was passed on to the police. On 24 June 2011 he was interviewed by the police. He immediately acknowledged his involvement. He also informed the police of his associate's involvement. That same day the police interviewed Mr Godsiff's associate who initially denied his involvement. Counsel advise that upon being told that Mr Godsiff had given full details of what they had done, his associate was effectively

forced to concede his involvement (although I am also told that he has entered a not guilty plea to the charge brought against him).
Circumstances of the offender

Mr Godsiff has no previous convictions of any kind. At the time of his offending he was 19 years old. He is now 20. Before his imprisonment he was serving a building apprenticeship with another builder. The builder regards Mr Godsiff as a hard worker, with a great attitude to work, punctual, polite and honest, and well on his way to being a fine tradesman. Mr Godsiff's family was described by the District Court Judge as being hard working and law abiding. Although he has their support, he has been made well aware by them and by his employer and social contacts of the embarrassment and distress he has caused them.


Because of the inexplicable nature of the offending, Mr Godsiff's counsel arranged for Mr Godsiff to be interviewed about the offending by a registered clinical psychologist. The psychologist reported to the Court that the offending had occurred on the basis of Mr Godsiff having developed a belief that seals are pests, to be dispatched in common with the dispatch of pests on farms. It was noted that on Mr Godsiff's parents’ farm he had spent considerable time shooting pests (rabbits, possums and feral goats) and at the time saw seals in the same light. He reported that Mr Godsiff was aware that the seals were protected but did not understand the legal significance of that. The psychologist's view was that the offending had been carried out with relatively little prior planning and with no apparent motive to enjoy the violence. Rather it was the result of “ignorance, lack of thoughtfulness and impulsive actions”.


The psychologist described Mr Godsiff as presenting as generally remorseful about the effects of his actions on others but as having more limited understanding or remorse about the effect of his actions on the protected species. He was described as being fearful of the legal consequences of his actions but prepared to take responsibility for them. He was not viewed as having any on-going psychological needs.


The pre-sentence report writer described Mr Godsiff's risk of re-offending as low.

District Court sentence

The District Court Judge considered the aggravating factors of the offending to be that it was pre-meditated, Mr Godsiff and his associate were armed with make- shift weapons and used head lamps to see, the seals were vulnerable, the seals were found with crushed skulls and open wounds and had been callously bludgeoned to death, Mr Godsiff was a full and willing participant, and the scale of the offending was serious because of the sheer number of seals killed. The Judge considered that the starting point for the offending should be three years’ imprisonment.


From this starting point, the Judge gave a 25 per cent discount (9 months) for Mr Godsiff's guilty plea. He rejected a submission from Mr Godsiff's counsel that there should be any further discount for Mr Godsiff's co-operation with the police. He deducted a further three months for Mr Godsiff's age and good character. That meant an end sentence of two years’ imprisonment.


The Judge rejected community detention in combination with other penalties as inadequate. He noted that home detention was not recommended by the pre- sentence report writer because Mr Godsiff's job involved travelling to various places. The Judge's view was that home detention was not appropriate because it “does not adequately reflect the harm done and the seriousness of it and…nothing short of imprisonment is warranted for the deliberate ill-treatment on this scale.”

Manifestly excessive

Counsel for Mr Godsiff submits that a sentence of two years’ imprisonment was manifestly excessive because:

  • (a) The Judge over weighted the scale of the offending (ie the number of seals) and failed to have regard to the absence of sadistic features or extended cruelty (which has been present in some of the comparative cases); and

  • (b) The Judge failed to give sufficient weight to the mitigating factors (Mr Godsiff's age, his good character, the influence he was likely to be under from his employer, and his remorse and co-operation).


Counsel for the respondent submits that the aggravating features of the offending, including the scale of the offending, placed this at the middle to upper range of seriousness and as such the three year starting point was not manifestly excessive. She submits that the Judge's allowance for mitigating factors was appropriate. She submits that Mr Godsiff did not claim to be under the influence of his employer, that he had not shown genuine remorse, and his co-operation was limited and was adequately accounted for in the discount that was given for the guilty plea.

Starting point

Although the offending was shocking (causing unnecessary pain and suffering and death to creatures who had done nothing to Mr Godsiff), I accept that there was no element of sadistic violence or prolonged cruelty in this case. When that element has been present it has resulted in a starting point at around the middle of the maximum available imprisonment term, as it then was, in one case 2 and at one

third the then maximum in another. 3 That factor, where it is present, is seriously aggravating in a charge of his kind. 4

In this case the Judge took a starting point at more than half the maximum term of imprisonment 5 I have not been referred to any case which has adopted a starting point as high as this. However there were a number of aggravating features that made this serious for offending of this kind. In particular:

  • (a) The number of seals killed is aggravating. By way of comparison, there is a District Court case which involved 32 birds who were killed by being effectively torn to pieces. In that case the Judge accepted that the ill-treatment had not involved any extended cruelty,...

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