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Cross-Party Conference Lifts Trust to New Level

"Despite what others say, we've always been a-political and we think it is extremely symbolic for opposing parties to unite on such an important issue as justice."
Conference speakers this year include Prime Minster John Key, Police and Corrections minister Judith Collins and Justice minister Simon Power.


Monday 23rd August

Cross-Party Conference Lifts Trust to New Level

Cross-party support for the annual Sensible Sentencing Trust conference in Wellington tomorrow is an indication of how far the justice watchdog group has come in the past decade, says spokesman Garth McVicar.

In a first for the organisation, the Trust will hold the conference inside Parliament grounds, officially hosted by National, Labour and Act.

"It's a mark of how far the organisation has come to be able to pull off a cross-party conference in parliament. We tried in the early days and no one was interested," said Mr McVicar.

"Despite what others say, we've always been a-political and we think it is extremely symbolic for opposing parties to unite on such an important issue as justice."

Conference speakers this year include Prime Minster John Key, Police and Corrections minister Judith Collins and Justice minister Simon Power.

In an unusual twist, defence lawyer Greg King will speak directly before Gil Elliot, whose daughter Sophie's killer Clayton Weatherston was infamously represented by King, using the now outlawed provocation defence.

"Frankly it is more terrifying than facing up to five Law Lords in the Privy Council," said Mr King, whose speech will cover the much-asked question of how defence lawyers sleep at night.

New Zealand Parole Board Chairman Judge David Carruthers will also front-up to victims and families, who this year includes the family of young Hawke's Bay woman Cathy Marlow, violently murdered in London three years ago.

"Cathy's sister Debbie very bravely approached us and asked to speak at the conference about the huge advantages she feels her family had over those fighting for justice here in New Zealand.

"The family has never spoken publicly about the murder before and the speech (at 11.30am) is a one-off for Debbie, who wants New Zealanders to hear how the British justice system enabled the family to heal and move on."

Debbie will not be giving interviews to media at the conference, and has asked that copies of her speech not be forwarded to media.

As in the previous five years, the main aim of the conference is to bring victims and families together in a way that allows them to feel empowered and unified.

"Many of them tell us it is the only time of the year they feel normal, because they are surrounded by people who have shared their life-changing experiences losing a loved one and dealing with the justice system. There is no way we can do anything about the crime that has happened but if they can contribute to changing the system for the better that is empowering.

"It's not everybody's cup of tea but those that come know they will be in the limelight and are happy about that. Others prefer to take a back seat away from the media and just benefit from the collegiality that comes from all being together.

"I used to be the one getting the 2am phone calls, but thanks to the conference, families have met each other and now support each other."

The decision by the Charities Commission to deny the Sensible Sentencing Trust charitable status earlier in the year had threatened the viability of the conference and the organisation was especially pleased that this year's even was shaping up to be such a successful one despite the financial challenges.


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