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Clean Slate Bill Introduction Speech - Tanczos

28 March 2001

Clean Slate Bill Introduction speech by Nandor Tanczos Delivered at 7.30pm

The purpose of the Clean Slate bill is, as the explanatory note says, to ensure the fair administration of justice for those offenders who have committed minor crimes and are unlikely to re-offend. The bill allows offenders who have paid their dues to society to put their past behind them.

The interesting thing is that when you ask people out on the street what they think of this bill, their first reaction is likely to be 'I thought we already had something like that'.

I challenge members to do that. Next time they are catching a bus down Lambton Quay, have a chat with the person next to you and ask them what they think about the Clean Slate bill.

The second reaction will most likely be that they support the bill.

I am sad to say that this is not a major overhaul of the justice system. It is not a radical new initiative that will turn our justice system into a victim-centred, community controlled and effective way of administering justice and reducing re-offending. It is much more modest than that.

Many other countries have laws similar to this - in the UK, in Australia and many other places. So it is not a novel idea.

Nor is it a new idea in this country. Similar legislation has been mooted for the past two decades by many members of this house, including a previous Minister of Justice Sir Douglas Graham, the current Minister of Justice Phil Goff, Mike Moore, and the current leader of ACT NZ Richard Prebble. Not exactly a bunch of radicals, but I wouldn't dismiss the idea just because of that. It will be interesting to see if Mr Prebble will follow his convictions and vote for this bill.

The measures in this bill and sensible and obvious. That is why there is huge public support for it. On the street, on the buses, on talk back radio and in letters sent to me, I am getting a heap of support from ordinary New Zealanders who see the simple justice of this bill.

So what does the bill do?

First of all it creates and defines a new term in legislation, 'spent conviction'. Any minor conviction becomes a spent conviction if, after seven years, the person has not been convicted of another offence. A minor conviction is defined as one where the person received a sentence of not more than 6 months in prison or a fine of not more than $2000.

For children or young people tried in a Youth Court, minor convictions are ones that received a sentence no greater than three months in prison, and they become spent after three years. Spent convictions are not revived by any subsequent convictions.

We put a lot of thought into how to define a minor offence. It is difficult to draw a line that includes all the people that you want to include and excludes all the people you want to exclude. The question is how to get the best fit.

If you try to define it by category of crime, such as by maximum sentence, then real anomalies arise. The Crimes Act is full of bizarrely disproportionate maximum sentences. For example I understand that stealing a goat carries a maximum sentence of seven years.

So we decided that what sentence was actually given is probably a more realistic indication of the seriousness of the specific offence.

Once a conviction is spent, the person is not required to disclose any information about that spent conviction, nor is any person or organisation allowed to ask about it. Spent convictions would not be able to be used as a grounds for discrimination.

There are exceptions to this. It does not apply when applying for work as a judge, magistrate, JP, prison officer, or for work involving care of children such as teacher, teacher's aide or provider of child care services. I think that most people will agree that children need special protection in law.

It does not apply if applying for work as a fire fighter. In that case any convictions relating to arson or attempted arson will have to be disclosed.

The bill does not apply to a spent conviction of a person who commits a crime similar in fact to the original conviction, and allows the police to apply to a court for an order to bring before the court information about a spent conviction.

The bill also excludes any sexual offence. I was shocked to learn that in the past ten years one conviction for rape had received a sentence of just a fine. Hopefully courts take those kind of crimes much more seriously today.

It is important to note that the bill does not seek to physically delete people's records. It would be impractical to seek out and destroy everything in the public record relating to a persons convictions. It would also make it impossible to create the kinds of exceptions that this bill does, such as those around child care workers and fire fighters.

It is also important to note that the bill does not affect overseas jurisdictions. While it maybe unfair that people's travel is restricted because of very minor offences committed while young, such as the man who wrote to me about the fact that he is unable to visit his grandchildren in the USA because of a cannabis possession charge from his teens, there is nothing that NZ can do about that. The US authorities have the right to determine for themselves what information they require from people within their jurisdiction.

There are weakness in the bill. I make no bones about that. One example is the concern expressed in letters to me that the exclusion for sexual offences means that offences committed by consenting adults when homosexuality was still illegal will not be spent by this bill. I acknowledge that and will be supporting amendments to the bill to change that.

It has also been suggested that where offences fall outside the scope of the bill, but ought to be included, that the convicted person should be able to apply to the court to have that conviction spent. I think that that is a sensible idea and I invite the select committee to consider it.

I welcome the input of the public to the select committee and any change that the select committee might see fit to make to the bill. That is democracy in action. Democracy is not a vote every three years, it is the participation of the people of this country in its governance.

As I have said, I have already received numerous letter from people who's lives will be made better by this bill. Such as...

I also recognise that other members of this house may need to see some amendments if they are going to support it through the second and third readings. I am comfortable with that. The main thing is that the basic foundation of the bill is sound and just.

ENDS

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