How many charges is a “raft” of charges?

The term a “raft of charges” is one of the finest arrows in the lawyer’s (or journalist’s) quiver. Few descriptors can match its comfortable cliché and economy of language. No need to get lost in the shuffle of papers chasing CRNs: “The offender is for sentence today on a raft of charges, your Honour.”

But how many charges is a raft of charges? Lawyers have a duty not to mislead the court. It is therefore vital that the term is used with the precision that befits its status as one of our legal system’s foremost hackneyed phrases.

It is plain there is an upper limit. Former concentration camp clerks are charged with 100,000 counts of accessory to murder. This is a long way past raft territory and rapidly approaching ocean liner status. Though in fact that too is inaccurate because the “raft” is not a floating contrivance but instead comes from the Middle English term “raff” meaning a large number or abundance, but it does not offer further guidance on attributing a numerical value.[1]

As there are more New Zealanders practising in the Waitakere District Court than in the International Criminal Tribunal for the Former Yugoslavia, the most common problem of definition will come from establishing a minimum number of charges that can be described properly as a raft.

A recent survey of 25 lawyers at the author’s law firm found that a mean minimum number of seven charges could justify the use of the term “raft”, though in the author’s opinion anyone who said fewer than ten is probably a closeted member of the Sensible Sentencing Trust. The highest minimum proposed (if that makes sense) was 13.

From there we turn to case law. A review of High Court and Court of Appeal decisions from the last ten years show that, where courts used the term and also detailed the exact number of charges, a raft consisted of a mean 19 charges.[2] Even that is not conclusive as the Court of Appeal has described a mere six charges as a raft in R v McCord [2007] NZCA 312 at [36].

The author respectfully disagrees with the Court of Appeal on this issue. Six charges cannot be a raft. Six charges is not even the younger cousin of a raft of charges: the spate of offending.[3] In my view it requires at least a dozen charges.

For now, we await the ruling of the Supreme Court on the issue.

And, finally, discussion of rafts of charges is not to be confised with discussion of charges over rafts: see Hogan v Richards.[4]

_________________

 

[1] For further writing on the etymological origins of raft see Anatoly Lieberman “An etymological raft” Oxford University Press Blog 21 July 2010 https://blog.oup.com/2010/07/raft/

[2] This took a while to calculate.

[3] Unless the spate of offending is more than ten years old in which case it is technically a “chequered past”.

[4] Hogan v Richards Magistrate’s Court Auckland, reported in Daily Southern Cross, Volume XXIV, Issue 3427, 10 July 1868. Available at: https://paperspast.natlib.govt.nz/newspapers/DSC18680710.2.27.2

 

One thought on “How many charges is a “raft” of charges?

  1. Please, next time you have five or six charges, invite the court to consider the canoe of charges. Four I think would be a kayak, and then a couple would just be a surfboard.

    Like

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