Salient. Victoria University Student Newspaper. Volume 36, Number 10. 23rd May 1973
Amanda Russell Case
Amanda Russell Case
Another act in the continuing tragedy of white capitalist injustice took place in the Lower Hutt Magistrates Court on May 1. Amanda Russell of the Tenant's Protection Association was up for "assaulting" Peter Amarat Rama, son and agent of the famous rack renter Rama Madhav.
Assault meant the act of intentionally applying force to another, said the Magistrate Mr K.J. Patterson, and there was no doubt that this had been done. Mr Patterson was not interested in the context of the assault. It did not, for instance, occur to him that a slap of the same negligible force would have been quite fitting if Amanda had administered it at a party if Peter Annual was getting fresh. No, the slap had a political context: a man was protecting his property, from someone no better than a demonstrator.
Nor did it matter to the magistrate that Amanda Russell had been waving special proceedings notices in front of the truck which was carting tenant's furniture away under Rama's supervision. Amanda had been called to the scene by distressed, crying tenants, who understood nothing of what was going on except that Rama's bailiffs were bullying them. Amanda had legal advice that Rama could not seize striking tenants' goods while he had court actions pending against them, and she was trying to impress this upon the driver. Peter Amarat Rama came over to her and in a gloating, pushy tone asked her to move away. Rama later boasted that he had deliberately provoked Amanda in order to get her out of the way.
As it turned out, Amanda's legal advice was wrong and Rama's actions were sanctioned by law. In retrospect, it was foolish for a member of the Tenants' Protection Association to have imagined for a moment that tenants are protected by law — they aren't. The average lease is two pages of rules for tenants with a free hand and no stipulations for the landlord. The law books themselves are full of landlords laws and offer little hope for oppressed tenants.
Finally the court ground on to the Amanda Russell case. There was indeed no doubt that assault actually occurred, it was only the context and the attitude of Peter Amarat Rama that Amanda's lawyer dwelt upon. But Patterson was impassive. In his summing up he ranted on about 'people taking the law into their own hands'.
"You may feel that you were justified in taking the action you did, but I hasten to tell you, you were not." In Mr Patterson's opinion, Amanda could have taken a more effective stand, though he did not suggest what this might have been. He was concerned that such an obviously intelligent woman as he discerned Amanda to be "should stoop to physical violence". And he said he could not find the answer in the evidence presented. With a last touch of irony, he fined her $50 — he must have decided that although she was intelligent she might still learn from being found guilty and fined in his court.