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Time For Rational Law On Mad Defence

The Claude Gabriel case highlights the need for an end to the extreme difference between the way we treat `bad' killings and `mad' killings, ACT Justice Spokesman MP Stephen Franks said today.

"We should urgently provide for a verdict of guilty but insane.

"Huge resources are poured into lawyers and competing `experts' arguing the difference, when the outcomes for the community and the killer are, or should be, much the same.

"Since the abolition of the death penalty, the social value of legal exploitation of the insanity defence has been dubious. Now the treatment of murder in Mr Goff's Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill makes absurd any substantial waste of legal resources on the distinction between mad and bad. "Life imprisonment" can now mean anything, except life in prison. The Bill means that a mad killer is likely to be locked up for longer than a killer who attracts the Court's sympathy. The current 10-year minimum sentence for murder is abolished.

"A guilty but insane verdict would only affect the kind of institution the killer goes to. Insane killers should not be in prison. But they should be in custody. It may not make an enormous difference. Just as murderers are always at least theoretically subject to recall to complete a life sentence, so should a mad killer be kept locked up or constantly subject to recall, at any time there is any concern about the safety of others.

"ACT raised this simple change during the select committee process. I objected to the deceit in continuing to use the term "life imprisonment" when it can mean anything from one year to 17 years.

"It is still not too late for the government to amend this bill to make sure that in New Zealand at least the outrage of cases like that of Claude Gabriel, cannot happen again. We can save most of the enormous legal aid waste on having judges agonise over the difference between mad and bad," Mr Franks said.


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