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Parole Highlights Urgent Need For Change

Parole Highlights Urgent Need For Change

ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today called for an immediate amendment of the Parole Act - to make it illegal for the Parole Board to hear an application until they have evidence that the victims have been asked for their view - after a sex offender was granted parole without the victim's family being informed.

"There have been far too many cases where the authorities' response to a failure to notify victims has been simply `opps'," Mr Franks said.

"Most duties under the Victims Rights Act were deliberately made unenforceable. The simplest way to make the reluctant criminal justice establishment take victims' rights, to know about a parole proposal and to comment on it, would be to ensure the board had to satisfy itself that the law had been observed.

"This should also require evidence of reasonable efforts to contact those entitled to be on the Victim Notification Register, wherever there is no record of victims having registered, and evidence of steps taken to notify people who have registered. To avoid an unfair burden on police, this new rule could, at first, be phased only to apply to serious violent offenders.

"Justice Minister Phil Goff has a habit of fending off criticism by announcing Government intentions to patch his Sentencing and Parole Acts - then doing nothing. ACT would support this change, to ensure the Parole Board enforces victims' rights, by voting for it as a standalone provision - though, preferably, this would be part of other changes.

"Mr Goff must also introduce changes he hasn't yet admitted are necessary - including a definition of the victim's interests, which the Parole Board is supposed to take into account. The Board also needs the power to take into account judges' reasons for sentencing.

"At present, if the Board thinks the offender won't be a danger to the community, they have to let them - out irrespective of the judge's decision, the victim's feelings or other people's outrage.

"Mr Goff resisted those changes last year but, perhaps, experience might lead him to accept now the help that ACT offered back then," Mr Franks said.

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