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Zero Tolerance for Crime

Speech by ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Whittington
Launch of ACT’s Law & Order Policy
Lucky Seafood Restaurant; Somerville Court, Botany

Zero Tolerance for Crime

The first duty of any government is to establish a system of laws which protect the rights of individuals from being infringed. In basic terms, the government must ensure that citizens feel safe in their own communities.

In the past three years, the ACT Party has played a significant role in ensuring that individuals are in fact safer. We pushed the National Government to put 600 more police on the front-line throughout New Zealand. We introduced the Three Strikes regime, which sees repeat violent offenders in jail for longer, ensuring our communities are safe from New Zealand’s worst criminals. And we helped the government target gang crime, by allowing police to seize the proceeds of crime.

We believe that these measures have played an important role in New Zealand’s decreasing rate of crime. It is relevant to note that some of the heaviest reductions in crime have been in the area of violent crime – the crime that is the target of the Three Strikes regime. Although Three Strikes has only been in place long enough to see one offender receive his second strike, it has made it clear to each offender who receives a strike that continued offending will receive more severe sentencing consequences. This helps to deter reoffending.

Although ACT has achieved significant policy wins in the area of law and order, our work is not complete. Crime continues to affect our communities – and the victims of crime are often low income individuals, or small business owners.

Over the next three years, the ACT Party will be pushing National to implement policies that will ensure fewer New Zealanders are the victims of crime. There are five policies in particular that ACT will be pushing for.

First, ACT supports addressing the underlying drivers of crime by a focus on community policing that targets youth and low-level offending. Low-level offending, although itself often trivial, typically leads young people to more serious crimes. It is therefore important to target this offending to prevent criminal activity escalating.

This so-called ‘Broken Windows’ approach ensures that young people realise that criminal offending will have consequences. Once young criminals realise that they will be caught, and dealt with appropriately by the justice system, they are much less likely to reoffend in the future.

To be clear, this is not to say that we should lock young people up for relatively trivial offending. Instead, we need to ensure that even minor crime is a focus for the police, and that those apprehended by the police are processed through the Youth Court. It is not that we need harsher sentences for youth offenders, just higher rates of apprehension. For example, in some areas, minor burglaries are followed-up by police in only about 20 per cent of cases.

If those who commit minor burglaries do not realise that criminal activity will have consequences, then they are more likely to escalate their criminal activity until they commit more serious crimes that see them behind bars. This is a tragedy for all involved – for the victims of their subsequent crimes, for the taxpayer who is forced to pay for their imprisonment, and also for the young person whose life will be destroyed by receiving a custodial sentence.

Second, ACT will push for a review of police procedures surrounding the application of defences, such as sections 48 and 56 of the Crimes Act 1961, which allow for self-defence and defence of property.

Although the law as written ensures that victims of crime are able to use reasonable force to defend themselves and their property, in far too many cases the victims themselves are dragged through the court process, only to have the charges immediately thrown out.

People like Virender Singh, who defended himself and his family with a hockey stick against five thugs, were clearly acting in self-defence. Those who endure the trauma of being threatened by criminals, only to then be accused of perpetrating a crime in the defence of their family, must feel that the criminal justice system is seriously skewed against the victims of crime. The police procedures surrounding the application of these defences must reflect the intent of the legislation – to enable people to reasonably defend themselves and their property without legal consequence.

Third, ACT will ensure that those convicted of committing a crime receive similar sentences, regardless of where they are tried. ACT supports reintroducing the Sentencing Council, the role of which would be to promote consistency and transparency in sentencing and Parole Board practices. An important part of the responsibility of the Sentencing Council would be an educational role to ensure that citizens are aware of how our sentencing system operates, in order to stop politicians interfering with the system in response to high-profile but isolated cases.

Fourth, ACT will provide access and incentives for rehabilitative courses for all convicted criminals. In respect of those sentenced to home detention, this will require more funding for rehabilitation programs. Often, these individuals do not have any access to these programs at all, significantly increasing their chances of reoffending, and failing to keep our communities safe.

In respect of those who receive custodial sentences, the incentives to undertake the courses will involve an extension of non-parole periods if rehabilitation programs are not entered into or completed. Locking people up while failing to ensure access to the programs that will ensure they do not reoffend upon release makes no sense. The cost-savings as a result of adequately funding these programs over the longer term in lower recidivism rates will be substantial.

Fifth, ACT will ensure that those who are ordered to make reparation payments or pay large fines are required to do so. While requiring offenders to compensate the victims of their crimes is a positive step, in many cases the victim never receives anything. ACT will ensure that such orders are adhered to, by enabling attachment orders against an offender’s income, whether that income is in the form of wages, or a benefit. This approach should also be adopted with large unpaid fines. Simply writing off the fines for those who break the law does little to guarantee that criminal offending will have consequences.

ACT believes that with these five policies, New Zealand communities will be safer. Minor crime will no longer escalate into serious criminal offending; victims of crime will be able to use reasonable force to defend themselves and their property; sentences handed down by courts will fit the crime, regardless of where the offending takes place; more criminals will have access to the kind of rehabilitation that will prevent them reoffending; and victims will receive the compensation that is owing to them.

ACT’s law and order policy will make New Zealanders feel safe again in their own homes and workplaces.

Thank you.

ENDS

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