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Justice Under Spotlight at Cross-Party Meeting

Wednesday, July 4th.

Justice Under Spotlight at Cross-Party Meeting

Top judicial leaders teamed up with politicians from across the political spectrum to unanimously agree last night that New Zealand’s prison and sentencing laws needed an overhaul.

At a meeting in Hastings organised by justice watchdogs The Sensible Sentencing Trust and attended by more than 200 people, Corrections Minister Damien O’Connor joined Law Commissioner Warren Young, Parole Board chair Judge David Carruthers and Law and Order spokesmen Simon Power (National) and Ron Mark (New Zealand First) to look at ways of improving the delivery of justice in this country.

Peter Bentley, the victim of a brutal home invasion at his Te Puke farm in 2004, saw a proposal to introduce mandatory 10-year minimum sentences for all home invasions and additional time served if firearms were used carried unanimously by all in attendance.

New Zealand’s poor track record for violent crime and reoffending came under the spotlight along with parole laws which saw criminals walk free after serving only part of their sentence.

“Our statistics in child abuse and deaths by comparison to many countries is poor and although crime rates have been going down, serious crime is going up. Imprisonment rates per capita are very high and it’s a situation that’s predicted to get much worse in the next five years unless we find a way to get off the treadmill,” warned Law Commissioner Warren Young.

The Commission wants to see a Sentencing Council established to set new guidelines and a reform of the parole system so the sentence imposed by the court properly reflected the one that was served.

New Zealand’s incarceration rate was the second highest in the western world and while crime rates in New Zealand were at their lowest since 1982, Corrections Minister Damien O’Connor said there were still instances where people expected greater punishment and retribution.

“We do have a responsibility to ensure we have a court system that is fair and a corrections system that adequately hands down sentences,” Mr O’Connor said.

National’s Law and Order spokesperson Simon Power said petty criminals were filling up New Zealand’s jails while serious offenders were released early.

“When the claim is made that we are being tough on crime I don’t think this is what people had in mind. Our prisons may have warm floors but they also have revolving doors,” Mr Power said.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesman and farmer Garth McVicar said last night’s meeting was only the second time in 20 years he had worn a tie, and the attendance at the event by the country’s judicial leaders and politicians showed the organisation’s message of getting tough on crime was being taken seriously.

“There is a healthy debate going on now which is why we set the Trust up, but it’s up to the people of New Zealand where this issue eventually ends up. I’m not going to bullshit and say that I’ve got all the answers but we will make New Zealand a safer country, just don’t say it can’t be done.”

He had spent his children’s inheritance creating the Trust and hoped more New Zealander’s would be spurred out of the apathy he once had in order to reduce violent crime.


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