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Speech: Ryall - The Justice System



'The Justice System Is The People's System'

5.15 PM, 24 MAY, 1999

President Tait, Ladies and Gentlemen, thank you for the opportunity to be here and talk with you tonight.

This Government has embarked upon a comprehensive programme to reduce crime in New Zealand.

Our plan to reduce crime is built on four important planks:

· Early Intervention
· Crime prevention
· More police
· Tougher sentences

Very soon Parliament will be considering one aspect of the tougher sentences plank, namely the Government's intention to increase penalties for criminals who invade people's homes.

As you will be aware there has been some criticism of the Government's Home-Invasion plan by opposition politicians, by some of the media and some in the legal profession.

It raises a fundamental issue about who the justice system is there to represent.

It is important that Opposition MPs, in particular, acknowledge that the justice system exists for the protection of New Zealanders.

The Justice system does not belong to lawyers and academics. It belongs to ordinary people. It is their views which matter most to me.

Home invasion is not an everyday offence. It is numerically small. But it does have a huge impact on the victim and their families.

We're putting a lot of Parliament's time and effort into this law because we think its important.

Some commentators on the home invasion legislation seem to hold the view that public concerns could not and should not be reflected in the laws that govern our country.

New Zealanders are demanding that the National led Government deal to thugs who feel they can invade the sanctuary of the home.

These criminals act as if the justice system has become their system. A place where they can flaunt people's concerns and emerge out of prison all too soon to ruin someone else's life.

The legislation reflects the fact that we as a people do consider our homes to be places where we have the right to feel secure and safe from the predators in our society who feel contempt for life and property.

The Bill reflects those demands.

However there are some in Parliament who act as if the public have no right to have a say in the justice system. They do not believe the law should reflect our society.

They forget that the justice system is society's way of deciding what is acceptable behaviour, and of protecting itself from behaviour which is not.

Justice exists for both the victim and the accused. All of those involved must not forget who those rules are for and who they seek to protect.

It is not a system set up to protect criminals.

The justice system is the people's system and it is my job as Justice Minister to reflect those concerns and demands and translate those demands into workable laws.

I will do so and I will not be deflected from that job.

The law change is not complex, it does not dismiss other violence, it does not let criminals off if they commit violence elsewhere.

The law change tells judges that the people of New Zealand consider their homes their sanctuary, their place of peace and if criminals destroy that peace, they expect their justice system to punish those who do so.

Those people who see crime most, the Police, have also expressed broad support for the Government's plan.

In their submission to the Justice and Law Reform Select Committee, the Police Association said "The Police Association agrees that heavier sentencing while not having an immediate impact on the behaviour of criminals will eventually introduce into the career criminals psyche an understanding that they should keep their offending away from private homes".

In their summary the Association said "While the Police Association is concerned that this amendment has been brought about by political expediency and that we are concerned that at all times a holistic approach be taken to the whole crime and punishment question, we do see merits in taking an opportunity to instil into the criminal sub culture a knowledge that carrying their criminal activities into private homes will be treated more seriously".

I also want to clarify the advice I received from my Justice officials.

Some media have, quite wrongly, reported that officials advised me that the Government's legislation "would not work".

There has never been any such advice.

In fact officials advised me exactly the opposite. Specifically, they said that "depending on the amount by which the maximum penalty is increased there is likely to be a net increase in the length of sentences imposed, as happened when the penalty for sexual violation was increased from 14 to 20 years".

It was for this reason that the Government proceeded with the legislation in order to increase both the average and 'worst case' sentences for criminals who invade people's home and commit violence.

I make absolutely no apology for that.

What officials did advise me is that in their view the legislation was unnecessary as there were no gaps in the law, judges had the discretion to sentence longer, and that if the Government did decide to legislate then sentencing guidelines were their preferred option.

The Government considered this advice. But, in the final analysis, we made a decision to go a step further to send a strong and clear message to the judiciary that we expect violent home-invaders (no matter how numerically few) to go to prison for longer.

The Bill is due back from select committee next week.

When the law is implemented, the maximum sentence for home invasion will increase from the current maximum penalties of 5, 7 or 10 years, by an additional 3 years.

For offences that currently have maximum penalties of 14 or 20 years, an additional 5 years is added to the maximum.

For example the new maximum penalty for home-invasion-aggravated-robbery is 19 years, rather than 14, and for home-invasion-sexual-violation, 25 years instead of 20.

In home invasion cases where there is a conviction for murder, the courts will be given far greater discretion to impose longer non-parole periods.

The Opposition will huff and puff and play politics with this bill. They will stall, grandstand and may even vote against the longer sentences.

After yelling at me across the House for the last six months shouting "longer sentences don't work", Mr Goff is suddenly promising longer sentences for all violent offences.

Only problem is neither his caucus nor the Alliance support this policy made on the hoof.

Ladies and Gentlemen, the home invasion debate will show to whom each party believes the justice system belongs.


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