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Changes To Sentencing And Parole Reform Bill

Goff Announces Changes To Sentencing And Parole Reform Bill

Justice Minister Phil Goff today announced three important enhancements to the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill.

These will allow the statutory limit on judge numbers to be increased, addresses the long-standing issue of young people being held in police cells while on remand and allow judges to set a non-parole period for serious offenders.

Increase in Judge Numbers

“Our reform of sentencing and parole legislation may lead to an increased workload for the court system. Therefore, there is a need to increase the statutory number of District Court Judges by three and of High Court Judges by one.

“This increase will ensure that if they are needed there will be sufficient judicial resources available to meet the increased workload of the District Court. Increased workloads may result from procedural changes in sentencing reform and the enhanced role of District Court judges as Parole Board panel convenors.

“The increase to High Court judge numbers will ensure sufficient judges are available should it be necessary to appoint a Parole Board Chairperson from the existing Bench.

Remand of young people to Penal Institutions

“A Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) will be released proposing to enable Youth Courts to remand a young person of 15 to 16 to an appropriate penal institution to avoid the long-standing problem of youths spending extended periods in police cells.

“For many years youths have been remanded in custody in police cells which are not designed for much more than an overnight stay. They have no exercise facilities or dining facilities and sometimes no natural light.

“We would not keep adults in them for any lengthy period of time so keeping young people in police cells for long periods is unacceptable.

“The amendment will allow for 15 and 16-year-old’s on long-term remand to be placed in penal institutions, preferably purpose-designed youth units.

“The court must be satisfied that the remand to a penal institution is in all circumstances appropriate and that there are no other alternatives.

“This is only a short-term solution and there will be a sunset clause in the legislation so that the provisions expire on 30 June 2004.

“Longer term solutions the government is working on include the construction of further youth residential facilities by CYFS and changes to fast-track procedures to reduce the amount of time spent on remand in custody awaiting trial.

Non-parole periods for serious offenders

“The Bill abolishes the current automatic release provisions for serious violent offenders after they have served two thirds of their sentence. This has been widely welcomed.

“Under the Bill, offenders would become eligible to apply for parole at one third of their sentence. Serious offenders of course have little prospect of being granted parole at this stage. Indeed, for the first time, those who constitute ongoing risk would face the prospect of serving their full sentence.

“However public submissions revealed a concern that there is a need for judges to be able to set a minimum non-parole period of greater than one third.

“I have decided to amend the Bill to give judges that option. An amendment will be introduced to allow judges to set a minimum non-parole period of up to two thirds of the sentence with a maximum of 10 years non-parole for finite sentences of two years or more.

“This amendment is only a safeguard and is unlikely to increase the prison muster further because we have already estimated that very few, if any violent offenders would be released on parole at that point.

“It will, however, save victims and the public being subjected to concern that the worst offenders could be granted early release and will reduce the number of parole hearings,” Mr Goff said.


Information sheet detailing proposed amendments

As announced by the Minister of Justice this afternoon the Government intends to release a Supplementary Order Paper (SOP) to the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill containing proposed amendments in relation to judge numbers, youth remands and judicial discretion to impose minimum sentences of imprisonment.

Judge numbers

It is proposed to amend section 5(2) of the District Courts Act 1947 to increase the statutory number of District Court Judges by three (from 120 to 123). This increase will ensure there are sufficient judicial resources, if needed, to meet the increased workload of the District Court as a result of procedural changes from sentencing reform and of the enhanced role of District Court judges as Parole Board panel convenors.

Further amendments are proposed to section 4(1) of the Judicature Act 1908 to increase the statutory number of High Court Judges by one (from 36 to 37) to ensure sufficient judges are available, should it be necessary to appoint a Parole Board Chairperson from the existing Bench.

Youth remands

Amendments to the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill and to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989, are also proposed to provide an interim measure to address the judiciary’s concerns about increases in the number of remands of child and youth offenders to Police cells, rather than Child, Youth and Family residences, and the length of those remands.
The amendments will free up significant capacity in Child, Youth and Family residences to cater for the remandees currently held in Police cells, by allowing a small number of youth offenders who are being processed through the adult jurisdiction to be remanded to a penal institution. The shortage in Child, Youth and Family residential facilities is often directly attributed to this group of young people who are each remanded for 160 nights on average. The amendments to the Children, Young Persons, and Their Families Act 1989 will enable the Youth Court to remand a young person aged 15 or 16 years to a penal institution if the following conditions are satisfied:
(a) the young person has been charged with or convicted of a purely indictable offence; and
(b) the young person is being remanded to the District or High Court for trial or sentencing; and
(c) if the remand is pending trial, the Court is satisfied that the period that the young person is likely to be detained on remand will be not less than two months; and

(d) the chief executive, or an officer of the department authorised in that behalf by the chief executive, has furnished to the Court a certificate stating that detention of the young person in the custody of the chief executive under an order under section 238(1)(d) for the likely period of remand would be likely to prejudice the ability of the department to meet demands to detain other young persons in the department’s residences under similar orders; and
(e) the Court is satisfied that remand to a penal institution is in all the circumstances appropriate.
The Criminal Justice Act will be correspondingly amended to permit the District Court or High Court to remand 15 year olds to a penal institution where the above conditions are satisfied. (Those courts already have the power to remand 16 year olds within their jurisdiction.)
Those affected for example would include around nine youths currently on remand for murder.
The amendments will have a sunset clause so that the current provisions resume on 1 July 2004.

Minimum non-parole periods
It is also proposed that judges be able to impose minimum periods of imprisonment longer than the standard one-third parole eligibility date for determinate sentences of more than 2 years.
Under the bill as introduced, all offenders sentenced to a determinate sentence over 2 years will be eligible for parole at one-third of their sentence. Parole eligibility would generally not lead to release at that point of offenders convicted of a serious offence. In fact an offender must be detained for the full term unless the Parole Board is satisfied that they are not an undue risk to the safety of the community. However, providing the judges with discretion over the minimum time to be served under a sentence of imprisonment will provide added reassurance to the public about the continued detention of an offender beyond one-third of the sentence in the case of the most serious offences, and reduce the number of parole hearings and the anxiety of victims regarding those hearings.
It is therefore proposed that judges have the ability, in respect of all determinate sentences of imprisonment of more than 2 years, to impose a minimum period of imprisonment if he or she is satisfied that the circumstances of the offence are sufficiently serious to justify a minimum period of imprisonment that is longer than one-third of the sentence.
It is also proposed that there be a limit on the duration of this period that would be the lesser of two-thirds of the sentence or 10 years. The 10 year period is proposed because that is the standard non-parole period that applies to sentences of life imprisonment for murder, which is considered the most serious offence, and for the sake of consistency non-parole periods for other offences should not exceed that upper limit.

The new option allowing judges to set non-parole periods for serious offenders will probably be used in around 190 cases a year.

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