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National Proposes Sentencing Commission




13 April 2000


National is proposing to involve the public in a Sentencing Commission to set guidelines for the Courts in sentencing offenders. This will mean more public involvement, greater consistency with the wishes of Parliament and improved openness.

The Withers Referendum showed that for too long the public have felt that the rights of offenders have been put ahead of the rights of law abiding citizens to be protected.

This is a positive way Parliament can respond to the Withers Referendum; giving the people more say in setting guidelines for judges. The Labour-Alliance government can't seem to agree on any ideas of their own!

The Sentencing Commission would be independent and involve both judges and non-judges. Their guidelines would be public. They would also seek public input into their work.

Sentencing guidelines are currently issued by the Court of Appeal to the lower courts. They take into account the seriousness of the criminal behavior and the defendant's record. They prescribe the appropriate form and severity of punishment for the various degrees of offending. But they have limited public awareness.

Often its hard for anyone to see how a punishment fits the seriousness of a crime. Disparities in sentencing, parole, punishment and crime control have long been issues for Parliament, lawyers, and the public. That's why 92% of New Zealanders voted for change.

Last year the National Government directed the Ministry of Justice to begin working on a series of reports on sentencing policy and guidance. This was part of our plan to shift sentencing more in line with community expectations. We were looking at bringing the range of sentencing legislation under one law (as we did with the Bail Bill), and at involving a sentencing commission in advising on judicial guidelines. We want to open the process up for more public scrutiny and debate.

National is proposing a Sentencing Commission to provide guidance to judges on how to deal with particular offenders and offences. This would help to better co-ordinate the different pieces of criminal justice law.

A Sentencing Commission would ensure the penalties prescribed by Parliament are better reflected in Court imposed sentences.

We would also want the Commission involved in assessing the effectiveness of the guidelines and recommending any changes to criminal law and sentencing procedures. The Commission would evaluate the effectiveness of sentencing, in particular, on repeat offending.

Benefits include improved public involvement and understanding of sentencing principles, the adequacy of penalty levels, certainty and fairness, permit judicial flexibility, and improve research and development programmes.

The Sentencing Reform Bill is currently being drafted by the National Party Justice Team, and will enter the ballot for private members' bills.


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