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Abuse Excuses Could Muddy The Law

Proposed changes to sentencing of battered defendants will blur law that should be certain, ACT MP Stephen Franks said today.

"Murder should stay as our most serious and indefensible crime, with longer minimum sentences.

"The proposed 'flexibility' for judges welcomed by Justice Minister Phil Goff could end up turning New Zealanders against the judges.

"Our current law lets juries decide to use manslaughter instead of murder in some cases. We should expand this approach.

"Instead, the Government's changes will take the decisions away from juries and give it to judges.

"Well intentioned and even soundly-based lenient sentences by judges can destroy confidence in justice. Minimum sentencing for murder is fundamental to respect for human life.

"Self defence and provocation are old and sound principles. Twenty years ago they were mucked up by amendments to the Crimes Act. As defences they should reduce murder to a less culpable form of homicide, or in some cases form the complete justification.

"Degrees of homicide will allow juries to apply their common sense leaving the judge to decide sentence in cases where the jury agrees the circumstances do not warrant a murder conviction.

"The Minister's endorsement of the Commission's report is a worrying indication that next month's Sentencing Bill will continue with our thirty year failed criminal justice experiment with punishment that doesn't mean what it says.

"The nominal increases in headline sentencing will be outweighed by reductions in sentences from 'judicial flexibility'. The message to criminals will be the same: 'Abuse excuses work'," Stephen Franks said.

ENDS


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