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Life Means Life - Dr Wayne Mapp

Article for New Zealand Herald by Dr Wayne Mapp
National Party Justice Spokesperson

Before being so dismissive of National's idea that Life should mean Life for the worst offenders, Justice Minister Phil Goff should get out and talk to a few murder victims' families. Too many New Zealand families are going through a personal hell that no one should have to endure. I can assure Mr Goff that National Party Leader Bill English received the full support of caucus when he put up the proposal that we need to look at Life meaning Life. As long as the worst offenders are locked away they can never hurt anyone again.

In the 1999 general election 92 percent of voters called for tougher sentences for violent criminals. They expected that the worst offenders would pay a proper price for their crimes. The public is clear about what they want from our justice system. They want the worst offenders permanently removed from society, not only to protect our communities, but also as a clear denunciation of the actions of the murderer. The conduct of these offenders is such that they have forfeited their right to be a part of society - not just for 10 years or for 17 years - but for their entire life.

Some of the most tragic murders are the preventable ones, the crimes committed by recidivist offenders who are released into society despite the warnings of police and other officials. Taffy Hotene was released from jail after serving time for a rape conviction; he then brutally murdered Kylie Jones in 2000. A non-parole policy could prevent tragedies like this and help rebuild a sense of security in New Zealand communities.

New South Wales has effectively dealt with this issue. Their law, introduced in 1995, was supported by all political parties. The law is straightforward: It defines certain kinds of murder as so extreme as to warrant special punishment. The sentence is determined by the judge; the jury's role is limited, as is the case in Britain, Canada and New Zealand. The jury's sole task is to decide whether or not the offender is guilty of murder. The sentence is life without parole. There are special provisions that allow release toward the end of a person's life, due to serious ill health, or at the point where it is clear that the person has reached advanced age and they could not possibly be a risk to society.

So far seventeen people have received the sentence. They include Ivan Millant - who murdered 7 hitchhikers over a 3-year period. Ten of the seventeen had committed multiple murders, either all at one time, or over a period of time. Common features of the other murders were that the victims were children and involved sexual assault, and that the offender had extensive previous convictions. The offenders' ages ranged from 24 to 57, with 6 offenders over 40 years.

This is not a sentence given lightly. No-one under 20 has received it in NSW, and for a country of New Zealand's size, only about two or three of the worst offenders a year would be locked away for good.

It is not difficult to pick out the criminals who would fit the criteria. Murderers like Gresham Marsh, who killed two elderly people in their beds in 1994; Paul Dally, who tortured and murdered Karla Cardno; and the murderer of the two young girls in Masterton recently. The murderers of the RSA workers would also be prime candidates for this sentence.

While it is true that all murders are horrific crimes, causing great distress to families, it is possible to apply common sense to work out which are the worst crimes. The judges need to have good legislative guidelines to help them reach this conclusion. The Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill is a start towards this, but it doesn't go far enough. What is needed is the right sentence that truly reflects the awfulness of the crime; that means more than the minimum of 17 years non-parole period as provided for in the Bill. The natural term of the offender's life should be the proper sentence.

The problem with the proposed seventeen years in the Bill is that an offender sentenced at age 25 could well be back in society at age 42. That is an age where they could still pose great danger. The offender also has the chance to continue their life. Do we want such horrific murderers to be given this chance? Their actions are so grievous that they have forfeited their right to live in society. It is not fair either to the community, or the family of the victims, that the very worst criminals in our country should be able to do so.

There is a common sense solution; adopt the New South Wales model and make life mean life for the worst murderers.


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