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Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Bill 1st reading

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Speech Notes

Criminal Records (Clean Slate) Bill 1st reading

[NB: With Phil Goff overseas, the speech will be delivered on his behalf by associate Justice Minister Paul Swain]

The Criminal Records Bill creates a clean slate scheme to allow minor criminal convictions which did not result in a prison sentence to be concealed after a 10-year period without further offending.

People who have committed minor offences, typically in their youth, and remained conviction-free for at least 10 years have demonstrated their successful rehabilitation.

Research indicates that after a 10-year conviction-free period a person poses no greater risk to public safety than a person with no convictions at all.

Punishment should be proportionate to the offence and people who many years ago committed minor offences should not keep on being punished for the offence long after they have ceased offending.

As Minister, I have received literally hundreds of letters from New Zealanders suffering disadvantage in employment or living in fear of having past offences revealed to family and friends, often decades after such offending occurred.

Legislation concealing minor convictions after the passage of time has already been passed in Canada, the UK and Australia at a federal level and in many states.

There are some practical limits to how far past minor offences can be concealed. It is, for example, not possible to prevent foreign states from continuing to require that all convictions be disclosed to border control and immigration authorities. The scope of the clean slate legislation will also only affect information from official sources. Access to information held in newspapers, publications and on the internet will not have to be removed from the record nor access to it restricted.

The Opposition has alleged that serial burglars would get a ‘clean slate’. The Ministry of Justice research around serial burglars with five or more previous burglary convictions dispels that myth. Of the 714 people convicted of burglary in 1995 it was estimated that none would currently be eligible for a clean slate regime. 514 of the 714 received a custodial sentence for a burglary conviction in 1995, 189 had previously been sentenced to a custodial sentence and would be deemed ineligible. The remaining 11 who may be eligible were reconvicted within 2 years of the 1995 conviction and would be ineligible at this point in time. These figures indicate that the thresholds that the Bill proposes for the clean slate scheme will prevent career burglars from being eligible.

Similar concern was raised about repeat drink-drivers receiving a “clean slate”. Research was conducted on the 4195 people convicted of driving with excess breath alcohol, who had at least two previous convictions. At least six out of every ten of these people would not be eligible due to custodial sentences being imposed, or because of re-offending.

The absence of further convictions in a 10-year period is not the only indicator of rehabilitation. Individuals must have no outstanding prosecutions or matters for sentencing. Court-imposed fines will also have to be paid and relicensing following disqualification arranged before a reformed individual can claim the benefits of the clean slate regime.

The Bill sets the threshold based on the sentence imposed, as sentencing reflects the culpability of the offender and the seriousness of the offence. A custodial sentence is usually now imposed as a sentence of last resort and an indicator of the seriousness of the offence. Therefore, individuals who have had a custodial sentence imposed will not be eligible under the scheme.

The safety of vulnerable members of society warrants more stringent safeguards being put in place. While evidence demonstrates that 10 years conviction-free is a reliable indicator of rehabilitation in most circumstances, unfortunately this is not the case with sexual offending against children. Convictions for any sexual offence where the victim was either a child under 16 or mentally subnormal will render an individual ineligible to have any conviction “clean slated”.

Full access to a criminal record will continue to be necessary for investigation, prosecution and sentence administration purposes for law enforcement agencies. It will also be necessary for the judiciary when making an informed decision about an individual’s risk of re-offending and suitability for a particular sentence. Likewise, both the Department of Corrections and the Parole Board members need full access to this information in the interests of determining risk of re-offending.

Access to a full criminal record for employment-vetting purposes is considered necessary only in limited situations. Where significant coercive powers of the State are being exercised or individuals are regularly working with children and young people, full scrutiny of the applicant’s criminal record is in the public interest. Employment-vetting exemptions are provided for positions involving the national security of New Zealand, or as a Judge, a member of the police, or as a prison or probation officer. Full criminal record information will be available for individuals seeking employment in the education sector or for roles involving the care and protection of children and young persons. Access will also be available for authorised research purposes.

Ends

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