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Minister meets with Far North JPs + Speech

13 October 2001

Media Statement

Minister meets with Far North JPs

Matt Robson met with JPs from the Far North today.

He said in a speech to the Annual General meeting of the Far North Justices of the Peace Association that it was a pleasure to be in the North and not talking about new prisons for a change.

"While there will always be people who don't want a prison in their back yard, everyone likes a JP close by. So it's a pleasure to be here amongst such a popular crowd as yourselves!

"Although, let me say, I am pleased that a regional prison will be built at Ngawha. It will be a community asset¡K.and nothing like the 19th century Mt Eden prison which I intend to close," says Matt Robson.

He thanked JPs for the work that they do, and talked about the potential for future changes that would effect JPs.

The Law Commission is presently examining the structure of the courts, and are due to report back in March of 2003.

JPs could be used in the future to hear preliminary cases where there has been a successful application to a judge for a witness to give evidence orally.

JPs could also be involved in cases committed for trial where evidence was not otherwise required.

"If a case is automatically committed for trail, it can still be necessary to have a court hearing with the defendant present because of the importance of the process, the need to consider bail and serve the various notices required," says Matt Robson.

Drat legislation to cover these changes and more is currently being prepared by the Parliamentary Counsel Office. It is hope that the Bill can be introduced shortly.

ENDS

Hon Matt Robson

13 October 2001

Speech Notes

AGM of the Far North Justices of the Peace Association

I am very pleased to be here today. I must say, it’s a pleasant change to be in the North and not talking about new prisons.

Although, let me say, I am pleased that a regional prison will be built at Ngawha.

It will be a community asset I am sure of it, unlike anything in New Zealand to date, and nothing like the 19th century Mt Eden prison, which I intend to close.

Still, there are people who don’t want a prison in their backyard - even a regional prison focused on reducing re-offending.

But I don’t know anyone who doesn’t like a Justice of the Peace close by!

So it’s a pleasure to be here amongst such a popular crowd as yourselves.

Let me start by saying thank-you.

Thank-you for the work that you do in the Far North, and for the community spirit that drives Justices of the Peace across New Zealand to volunteer their time and skills in such service.

You provide a valuable bridge between the community and the justice system.

We need you. And I thank you for coming forward, as all of you here have, to serve as JPs.

Of course the Honourable Paul Swain is the Minister responsible for Justices of the Peace.

This year the government has looked at ways of improving the appointment processes for JPs.

We have looked at ways of ensuring that JPs remain representative of New Zealand’s ever changing communities.

Latest figures show that of the 10,292 JPs, 72% are male, 65% are over the age of 60 years, and 88% are Pakeha - so except for the over 60 bit, that sounds like me!

Some progress has been made in this area, but it is clear, more work needs to be done.

The government has also committed to improving the training and support for the important job that you do.

I know that many of you will be waiting to hear, what is the future of the Community Magistrates scheme?

An evaluation report was released in August of last year, and since then justice sector Ministers, including myself, have been evaluating the results.

In the meantime, Community Magistrates continue to sit in the four Courts where the pilot operates - Hamilton, Huntly, Tauranga and Whakatane.

PROPOSED REFORM

As many of you will know the Law Commission is presently examining the structure of the courts.

It’s a huge job. The Commission has been asked to consider and report on all state-based adjudicative bodies (apart from the final appellant structures).

This includes the overall structure of how less serious criminal and civil matters may be dealt with in the District Courts.

I can’t give you an up-date on that work, as the Law Commission is not due to report until March 2003.

But I can talk to you about proposed preliminary hearing reform, which does affect JPs directly.

I’m sure you are interested in discussing what role JPs would perform in a reformed process. In summary these include:

„Y Hearing cases where there have been successful applications for a witness to give evidence orally.

It is proposed that preliminary hearings would take place in cases where there has been a successful application to a judge for a witness to give evidence orally.

The hearings would be before a Justice of the Peace or Community Magistrate, unless the judge otherwise ordered or the offence came within the provisions of s185C of the Summary Proceedings Act (which contain the special provisions relating to sexual complainants).

JPs would also be involved in cases -

„Y Committed for trial where evidence was not otherwise required.

Under the proposed changes, if there is no application for oral evidence, or where the application is not granted, it is proposed that cases would be automatically committed for trial.

However, the committal is likely to require a court hearing with the defendant present because of the importance of the process, the need to consider bail and serve the various notices required.

We cannot provide any accurate estimate of the impact of these changes on cases or on JPs.

But I can tell you that the impact will vary because in a number of court areas there are already high numbers of cases where oral evidence isn’t presented.

In these areas, the impact of the proposed changes will be much less.

Draft legislation, which covers both the proposed preliminary hearing reform and a new statutory criminal disclosure regime, is currently being prepared by the Parliamentary Counsel Office.

(The criminal disclosure regime will set out in legislation what should be disclosed to the defence at what stage of proceedings and will establish a process for achieving compliance through timetabling orders.)

It is hoped that the Bill can be introduced shortly.

EARLY INTERVENTION.

I would like to tell you about some of the work that I am doing as Minister of Corrections.

I wonder what led each of you here today to become a JP?

I assume for many, it was a desire to be part of a justice system that is fair and effective.

In plain language that surely means, part of a system that reduces crime.

One thing that unites us all in the law and order debate is a desire to see crime reduced: to see less victims in the future.

I believe the best way to keep the public safe in the long term is to prevent kids and teenagers growing up into tomorrow’s criminals.

In the short term, the most dangerous few must be kept behind bars for as long as it takes.

That is why this government has introduced the Sentencing and Parole Bill.

That Bill will make it easier to keep the dangerous few in prison for longer, and increase our ability to better manage offenders on parole, once they are released into the community.

But in the long term our best hope of reducing crime is early intervention.

Early intervention works best, costs less.

When I talk to people at public meetings I compare these two statistics:

The average cost of imprisonment for each inmate per year is $52,738.

NZ Superannuation (net) for a married couple per year is $18,763

Does that make any sense to you? It seems like a tragic waste of money to me.

Worse still, this expense has done little to lower the crime rate and make people feel safe in their homes.

Crime statistics speak for themselves. Over 90% of prison inmates under 20 are re-convicted within four years of release.

By the year 2013 the prison muster is predicted to grow by 46%.

This is what will happen if we do nothing. I have no intention of doing nothing.

ABOUT TIME

I recently released a major report called About Time.

It found that early intervention is the most effective way to keep the public safe.

Young people who are likely to become tomorrow’s hard core offenders can now be identified with increasing certainty - as newborns, as school entrants, as young offenders and as early adult offenders.

Teachers have long been able to identify many of the school entrants that they believe will end up as adult offenders, such as the hypothetical five-year-old with the angelic face that Ces Lashlie (former prison manager of Arohata Prison) spoke about.

Budget bids have started in parliament.

That means that each Minister is knocking on Michael Cullen’s door asking for money.

It may seem strange to some that I as Minister of Corrections am asking for money to intervene with kids at risk, with teenage pregnancies, and school truancies.

But I know this is the best way of preventing these kids from turning up on my prison doorstep in ten years time.

I’ve spoken to teachers, police, community workers and many others. They all agree.

I’m also asking for money to set up Day Reporting Centres for teenagers on their first offence, heading for more offending and jail unless we intervene.

Of course those teens who commit the most violent crimes must go to jail.

But we can intervene with the less serious teenage offenders before they reach this stage.

The Courts I know, are desperate for an alternative sentence for teenagers who don’t need to go to jail.

Day Reporting Centres will be tough, with 24 hour surveillance, but we will also equip these kids with jobs skills. Not only that, we’ll help them find a job at the end of their sentence.

CONCLUSION

All of us in this room are in the business of fair justice, and crime prevention.

It’s easy for politicians to promise quick fixes, especially when it comes to crime.

There are no quick fixes.

But together we can make a difference for the future.

Good luck for your annual general meeting, and thank you again for inviting me to speak.

ENDS


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