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Robson Speech: Sentencing And Parole Bills

May 1 2002 Speech Notes

Sentencing And Parole Bills – Third Reading

The Sentencing and Parole Bills are a milestone for this coalition government.

For the first time in over a decade we are starting to get clarity in criminal justice legislation.

At last there will be a common thread that connects judges who sentence, prison staff who rehabilitate, and parole boards who decide when an offender should be released.

And that common thread is this: there must be accountability from an offender, and community safety must be paramount.

We have had a hard task tidying up the mess left behind by National.
While they might talk tough, they left behind a scattered system where the right hand didn’t need to know what the left hand was doing.

They left behind a plethora of programs in and outside our prisons– some better than others. But little co-ordination to link one program to another.

This government is changing that.

The Sentencing and Parole Bills are a line in the sand.

Now, if a brutal and heinous crime is committed, the power exists to keep the offender in prison for life if community safety would be compromised by their release.

Preventive Detention is and always has been our tool to keep a brutal offender in prison for life. But in the past Parole Boards have not always been able to use this tool most effectively.

Now, under the Parole Bill, a new national body - the New Zealand Parole Board - will take over from the old Parole Boards.

It’ll be a professional, highly focused board.

For the first time its primary focus will be the protection and safety of the community.

So an offender on preventive detention can keep coming before the Parole Board every three years. But if that offender is not deemed safe, then he or she will stay in prison.

It is a nonsense, therefore for the opposition to accuse this coalition government of being soft on the most violent offenders. Where necessary, life can mean life.

With there Bills we have drawn a line in the sand.

Having drawn that line, we ask New Zealanders for their support for a co-ordinated approach to criminal offending.

Because most people in prison are not the terrible few that we see on the 6 0’clock news after a brutal attack: they are the sad many.

The sad many drive while disqualified, or steal or take drugs.

29% of offenders are in prison for property offences, 22% for traffic offences and 20% for other offences including drugs

That is why this legislation also focuses on crime prevention.

We have to do everything in our power to ensure that those sad many who appear in our courts and serve time in our prisons for less serious offences, are returned to their communities as safe citizens.

This Bill abolishes suspended sentences of imprisonment. With their removal, the Sentencing Bill will preserve the intent of suspended sentences but remove the unintended effect of net-widening.

Now, where immediate custody is appropriate, then that is what judges should impose.

Otherwise this legislation makes a number of changes to community sentences to make them more effective.

If a judge does not think a prison sentence appropriate, now he or she has a range of alternative options.

The Bill allows the court to discharge without conviction, or convict and discharge. For discharge without conviction the court must be satisfied that the consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence. For a conviction and discharge the court must be satisfied that a conviction is sufficient penalty in itself.

It is not intended that this should lead to any significant difference to the courts’ current approach and use of discharges. They will continue to be used only where appropriate. The Bill allows the courts for the first time to combine discharges with disqualification from driving. This is not intended to signal any change to the way in which the courts deal with serious traffic offences. Rather, it gives the courts an additional tool when considering sentencing on traffic matters.

The Bill also recognizes the value of restorative justice processes in holding the offender accountable and meeting the needs of victims.

Clauses 22 and 99 of the Sentencing Bill enable adjournment or postponement of sentencing with a view to allowing persons who might be looking at a term of imprisonment to remain in the community for a period and show the court that they can reform. A number of court of appeal cases have confirmed this trend.

A prison sentence can still be imposed if, after a rehabilitative or restorative justice program has been tried, the offender has not responded to the satisfaction of the court.

The power to adjourn (cl 22) or to sentence if called upon (cl 99) are not new concepts. Both those processes are allowed in the present Criminal Justice Act. What will be different under this bill however, will be the extension of their application to deal with situations that suspended sentences previously dealt with.

This coalition government has extended restorative justice processes in our criminal justice system and Cl 22 and cl 99 are key clauses for restorative justice processes. They increase the scope for the use of such sentencing tools.

To reinforce that intention there is a further amendment as inserted by SOP 262 to clause 10A(2) and its particular application to cl. 99. That amendment makes it clear, and should allay any concerns of restorative justice groups, that despite any presumption in favour of ‘imposing, on conviction, a sentence of imprisonment…..then
(b) the court is not precluded from dealing with the offender (under cl 99) if
the court thinks it is appropriate in the circumstances.’

This legislation is part of a bigger jigsaw. Our new youth offending strategy is another piece. Once the pieces are together we have for the first time a coherent strategy that promotes community safety: that links what judges do in our courts, what professionals do in our prisons, with what teachers do in the classroom and what parents do in the home.

National was happy to see the pieces of the jigsaw scattered, and key pieces missing. This coalition government is not. There’s still a long way to go. But we have started. We’re confident that we’re on the way to providing safer communities. And it’s about time.


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