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Life will mean Life under National

Bill English National Party Leader

29 January 2002

Life will mean Life under National

A life sentence will mean life for the worst offenders under a National Government, Opposition Leader Bill English announced today.

"At the last election 92% of voters called for tougher sentences for violent criminals. Helen Clark has ignored that message.

"The new law will be based upon the New South Wales model, which defines certain murders as so extreme that they justify special punishment. Judges will be given guidelines, and the new standard would catch about two or three cases a year in New Zealand.

"It is not difficult to pick out the criminals who would fit this 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 killer of the two young girls in Masterton recently.

"New Zealanders feel less safe after the recent spate of murders, and our communities never will be truly safe if the worst murderers are allowed out of prison after serving only a fraction of their sentence. If these people are locked away they can never hurt anyone again.

"Labour's Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill extends the period of non-parole by only seven years. This is not good enough. The public is looking to law makers for decisive action and National will provide that leadership," Mr English said.



Some Questions and Answers on the Proposed Law

Q Why introduce life without parole for the worst murderers?

A The murder rate has increased from 40 in 1981 to 56 in 2000. This has resulted in increased public demand that forthright action be taken to express our revulsion at this trend, particularly in respect of the worst murders.

Q Who will the penalty of life without parole apply to?

A The penalty will typically apply to murderers where there are multiple victims, where the crime is a second offence or the murderer has a history of violent offending, or where the murder has been committed in particularly cruel and depraved circumstances.

Q What is the definition of the worst murders?

A The Judge would have to look at the following factors:

(a) multiplicity of killing (b) unusual level of premeditation (c) whether the murderer had previous convictions for homicide (d) whether the murderer had a history of sexual and/or violent offending (e) whether the murder had particularly serious levels of cruelty or torture (f) whether the murder involved the killing of a police officer in the course of duty (g) whether the murder involved unlawful entry into a home.

If one or more of these factors are present, the murderer would expect to receive life without parole.

Q How many murderers would be expected to receive the sentence of life without parole?

A On the basis of the New South Wales law, and on the New Zealand murder rates, approximately two to five murderers would receive this sentence each year.

Q Surely this means that some people would still be in jail at age 80, when they would not be a danger?

A There would be provision for discretionary release towards the end of a prisoner's life, as is the case with the New South Wales law. In New South Wales this is a Ministerial decision, not a Parole Board decision.

Q Doesn't the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill increase the murder penalty for the worst murderers to a minimum of 17 years?

A Yes, but it will not prevent the worst murderers being released back into society, to commit further crime, and is an affront to the victims' families. For instance, a murderer who kills at age 25 can be released at age 42, still a fit, healthy and potentially dangerous individual.

Q Isn't this proposal too harsh?

A It is based on the New South Wales legislation introduced in 1995. Since that time 17 murderers have received the sentence. They are typically multiple murderers, premeditated murders, and extremely violent murders.

Q How does New Zealand's murder rate compare to that in other countries?

A The rate per 100,000 population (1997) is:

New Zealand 2.37
Australia 1.93
United Kingdom 1.92
Canada 1.91
United States 7.34

On this basis, two to five murderers would be sentenced each year to life without parole.

Q Why not give the jury a role in determining who these murderers are?

A That would introduce a major change to the law, and would require the jury to do two things - determine guilt or innocence, and determine the severity of the crime. This step would not be in accordance with Commonwealth legal tradition.

Q Should the law of murder be thoroughly revised?

A The Law Society has recommended a thorough review of the law of homicide including self defence, provocation, responsibility and sentencing. The Law Commission has suggested changes to the law of self defence and diminished responsibility. The law of homicide should have an overall review, but there is a need for these changes now in advance of a wider review.


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