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Justice Minister Happy With Three Strikes Bill

Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Simon Power
Simon Power

By Maggie Tait of NZPA

Wellington, Feb 23 NZPA - A bill implementing the ACT-National three strikes violent crime policy has been condemned by Justice Ministry officials, but their minister Simon Power says there are measures to ensure it is not unjust.

Ministry papers released under the Official Information Act to NZPA raised concerns that the policy risked breaching New Zealand's Bill of Rights and international obligations, went against the Government's own policy on the drivers of crime, and impacted on judicial powers.

It also said some juries might not convict criminals, concerned by the unfair consequences if they did, and that the group worst affected would be Maori.

The Government announced in January it was amending its own three strikes policy after negotiations with ACT. The amended policy is included in the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill and responsibility for it shifted from Mr Power to Police Minister Judith Collins.

If passed into law, someone committing a major violent or sexual offence would receive a standard sentence and warning for the first offence, and a jail term, in most cases, with no parole and a further warning for a second offence. On conviction for a third offence, the person would receive the maximum penalty in prison for that offence with no parole.

Under the National Party policy a strike offence was a violent crime that attracted a minimum five years' jail but under the changes the threshold is conviction of a qualifying offence, for which there is a list. The previous policy would have seen an offender on his third strike jailed for life without parole for 25 years, but under the new policy the offender gets the maximum sentence for that crime with no parole.

The new policy will see far more offenders get a third strike than the previous policy.

Mr Power told NZPA that he encouraged officials to give him good contestable advice.

"And I don't always agree with it."

Provisions in the legislation where a judge could decide it was manifestly unfair to impose a three strike sentence, as well as the fact it was not retrospective and affected only people older than 17, "gives me great comfort that the legislation's sitting in the right place".

"I am very relaxed about where it ended up. I was involved in the negotiation of the policy right up to the end."

Ms Collins told NZPA that the focus was on public safety.

"There has been long discussions between both the Prime Minister and the leader of the ACT Party. This is a very well thought out bill. I think it's a good bill."

One Justice Ministry memo said a conviction for one of the strike offences would interfere with the balance between prosecution and judicial discretion and that judges and juries may acquit more people. Another consequence would be to discourage guilty pleas, which would result in more trials.

A December briefing paper raised human rights concerns saying the policy risked breaching the Bill of Rights and international agreements.

The memo also said some offenders would serve sentences 10 or more times longer than they would have otherwise. Some offenders would get far longer jail sentences than others who committed worse crimes but had not been caught for other strike offences.

The advice also said the policy was inconsistent with a ministerial direction to reduce costs in the criminal justice system and also did not align with the Government's policy on the drivers of crime.

"The conviction-only based approach increases the impact on Maori".

The papers also showed that different models of the policy were considered and at one point work was done on bringing in serious drug offences.

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