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Will Goff Ever Admit Non-Parole Law Blunder?

Will Goff Ever Admit Non-Parole Law Blunder?

ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today called on Justice Minister Phil Goff to accept ACT's amendments to the Sentencing ACT, after the Appeal Court described the Act's restrictions on Judges' power to set minimum non-parole periods as `inept drafting' and `something like the Hampton Court maze'.

"The same day the Court condemned his contorted and obscure section 86, I received a letter from him saying `Section 86 provides a very clear mechanism by which the sentencing judge can communicate sentencing principles, such as denunciation and deterrence'. It is fun to see a Minister exposed as incompetent, but the consequences are serious," Mr Franks said.

"Judges must watch nine-year sentences made into three-year nonsenses by parole. They cannot set minimum non-parole periods if the crimes are `not out of the ordinary' for their kind. Uncertainties discredit the law and contribute to criminals' view that there are hundreds of technicalities awaiting their lawyers use to get them out early. Hundreds of thousands of dollars wasted in legal aid and appeals would be better-used catching criminals or keeping them locked up.

"All because a Minister is too proud to accept what ACT and the courts have been telling him since his Sentencing Act went through, or too determined to ensure that the courts can not circumvent his scheme to look tough by increasing a few headline sentences, while opening the prison back door to nearly every criminal at one third of the sentence.

"Last September I tried to make it easy for Mr Goff - by doing the drafting for him, and undertaking to support him in a rapid repair. I circulated a fix-up Bill to every party. It was prompted by Justice Salmon's initial view that he could not give Haden Brown a non-parole period for bashing his mother into permanent care.

"Mr Goff did not accept. I concluded it was because the obscurity is deliberate. He had deliberately tried to remove judges' power to fix non-parole so they could not upset his scheme to let prisoners apply for parole at one third of the sentence. It was only after an uproar at a Sensible Sentencing Trust meeting when crime victims castigated Labour's Rick Barker, that the Minister consented to an amendment to allow judges to fix a non-parole period. But it was half-hearted. They can require only up to two thirds of the sentence, or 10 years - whichever is less - and only where the crime is `out of the ordinary'.

"I even offered my Bill to United Future and NZ First for members who might be looking for a useful `law and order' Bill to put in the members' ballot. I hoped they would help fix this bungle immediately. I feared then Mr Goff would rather let the courts struggle than admit his law was bad. It is sickening that he still will not allow judges to fix non-parole periods that do justice, and the Appeal Court must describe his law as `inept'," Mr Franks said.

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