February 01, 2011

Wedding prosecution 'sends strong message'

Prosecution of two men for illegal handling of a wedding ceremony has sent a strong message to marriage celebrants about the need to be clear about their roles, says the Department of Internal Affairs.

The Deputy Registrar-General of Births, Deaths, and Marriages, Ross McPherson, said it was believed that illegal practices were “not widespread”.

The case established that under the Marriage Act a celebrant must take a controlling and leading role in the conduct of the ceremony, he said outside the Christchurch District Court after the men’s sentencing by Judge Jane Farish.

Mr McPherson said marriage ceremonies were an important part of the social fabric and the department expected celebrants to perform their role in terms of the legal requirements.

Geoffrey Robert Topham Hall, a 56-year-old funeral director from Kaiapoi, will have to pay reparations, costs, and a fine totalling $7750 after his conviction on charges of making a false declaration relating to a wedding in November 2006, and falsely pretending to be a marriage celebrant.

The Rev Maurice Manawaroa Gray, a 54-year-old Anglican minister, was discharged without conviction for making a false declaration. He had signed a form stating that the wedding had been conducted in his presence, when the judge ruled that he had not been there.

He will have to pay $3500 in reparations to the groom for emotional harm, and $750 towards the cost of the prosecution.

Hall conducted the ceremony, going ahead with it even after he learnt that Gray – who was meant to be supervising – was called away urgently and could not be there. Judge Farish said Hall should have signalled the problem.

She told him: “It was very much your ego and self-gratification that got in the way. You liked being the centre of attention. You liked people looking at you on such a happy occasion.”

Defence counsel James Rapley said Hall was a generous, friendly man who was highly regarded in the community and active in charitable organisations.

He said Gray had resigned as the Anglican priest for the Tuahiwi parish, near Christchurch, and his resignation had been accepted by the bishop. Gray was a dedicated and hard-working man of the people. “It has been his life’s work to be part of this church. It has been something he has cherished and loved.”

He handed up “glowing” references for both men. He said they had been affected by intense media interest in the unusual case.

Seven reporters were in court for the sentencing and camera crews were waiting outside the Court House.

Crown prosecutor Sara Jamieson argued against a discharge without conviction for Gray on the serious charge. “There is a message that needs to be sent generally that this type of offending is completely unacceptable.”

The judge was given a report from the Anglican church in which the bishop apologised to the couple involved and said the actions of Gray and Hall had breached the standards of the church, brought it into disrepute, and created a feeling of distrust in the church.

Judge Farish said she regarded Hall as being the more culpable of the two.

She noted that a conviction could stop Gray getting more work when he was reliant on government and local government contacts. A conviction also had serious consequences in the Maori community for someone like Gray who was appointed upoko – the spiritual and cultural repository of knowledge, handpicked from birth.

She granted the discharge without conviction.

Hall was ordered to pay $3500 to the groom, Phillip Ellis, for emotional harm, and $2500 towards expenses for the wedding, as well as $750 for the cost of prosecution and $1000 fine.

After the sentencing, Mr Ellis said he hoped the men had learned their lesson, but he was glad it was all over and he just wanted to carry on with his life.

The bride, Jeanette Hardey, died about a year after the ceremony.