A failed bid to put a teenage rapist Jayden Meyer behind bars has sparked a fresh wave of criticism.
The Crown belatedly appealed Meyer's sentence of nine months home detention after initially agreeing it was the right one that took a rehabilitative approach.
But in a judgement Justice Sally Fitzgerald said they had left it six weeks too late to try to overturn a punishment she called "manifestly inadequate".
Spencer McNeil led public protests against Meyer's initial sentence of home detention for the rape of four girls and the sexual violation of another.
He said the judgement was gutting, and he had been encouraged to organise another protest on the matter.
Angela Parlane, managing director of Shine Lawyers which represents sexual assault survivors, told Morning Report it had been a failure at Crown solicitor level to submit that home detention was appropriate at the sentencing in July.
"The other aspect of this [is] ... the district court judge didn't in his decision go through the orthodox process of sentencing Mr Meyers which would usually involve establishing a starting point for a sentence." Once that was established, aggravating or mitigating factors would be taken into account to arrive at a final sentence.
In her judgement, Justice Sally Fitzgerald said an appropriate sentence would have been at least three years and five months' imprisonment.
"This has been a difficult decision. In reaching my decision, I am also acutely aware of the position of the victims. I expect that they and their families will feel aggrieved by this outcome. However, Mr Meyer, and other young men, can be under no illusion that in the ordinary course, serious sexual offending is likely to result in a sentence of imprisonment" Fitzgerald said.
Parlane said the appeal decision would have been difficult for victims to hear, but the High Court judge was hamstrung in what she could do, given the fact it was an appeal for leave out of time.
Though Justice Fitzgerald made a point of staying this was by no means a precedent, it was not a good message for victims, Parlane said. "We all know how difficult it is for victims to come forward".
Criminal Bar Association vice-president Adam Simperingham said there appeared to be a "disconnect" between Crown Law in Tauranga and Crown Law in Wellington which caused the delay in the Crown's decision to appeal the sentence.
As a result, Meyer had already served a third of his sentence at the time the appeal was heard, and had engaged in rehabilitative processes.
Simperingham said it was "appropriate" for the judges to reject the Crown's appeal in light of those reasons.
Parlane said the sentence appeal may well have had a "completely different outcome" if it had just been filed on time, because Meyer would have served less of his sentence at that stage.
The High Court judgment also said the prosecution accepted there was no excuse for the delay in filing the appeal 35 days too late.
Crown Law and Jayden Meyer's solicitor have been approached for comment.
Chief Victims Advisor Dr Kim McGregor said all victims of serious crimes needed an independent advocate to help them through the justice system.
She was heartened that the government had put $45.7 million into a review of the justice from the victims' perspective.