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Goff First Reading Sentencing And Parole Bill


Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Speech Notes

14th August 2001


I move that the Sentencing and Parole Bill be read a first time. Mr Speaker, it is my Intention to refer this Bill to the Justice and Electoral Select Committee with a requirement to report back to the House by 14 February 2002 and in doing so, would also like the House to give the Select Committee the authority to meet outside the usual sitting times required by Standing Orders.

The Bill represents an overdue and comprehensive reform of the Criminal Justice Act 1985.

It honours a manifesto commitment to review sentencing and parole laws.
It follows the principle I advocated before the election – that sentences better fit the nature of the crime and of the offender.
Where there are aggravating factors involved in the crime, sentences should reflect that so that maximum sentences should apply to the worst form of offending in each category.

Where individuals are serious repeat offenders and pose a threat to society, they will be kept out of society until the very end of the sentence imposed by the court.
The nonsense of an arbitrary release date at two-thirds of the sentence for serious violent offenders, ignoring the risk or absence of risk posed by the offender, is scrapped. A new Parole Board is established which has as its paramount consideration the safety of the community.

The rights of victims are better recognised and greater emphasis and wider scope is given to payment of reparations and to restorative justice processes.

This Bill follows the passage of the Bail Act last year, which took a stronger line against recidivist offenders. It is a companion measure to the Victims Rights Bill, soon to be reported back that broadens and strengthens the rights of victims.

Together these measures substantially respond to the concerns of New Zealanders about crime reflected in the 92% support given in the referendum held at the 1999 election.

This Bill has 280 clauses. It is in all senses a substantial piece of legislation.
It is the result of thorough and careful consideration, widespread consultation and analysis of research done in New Zealand and internationally.

The Bill makes clear that the paramount consideration is to protect society against those who have committed serious offences and are likely to do so again. They will face longer prison sentences.
However, there is also greater flexibility to ensure that alternatives are considered for those who do not constitute such a threat to society and that prison terms are not longer than they need to be.

This legislation by itself is only a partial solution to making our society safer. Prevention is always preferable to trying to find a cure after the event.
Alongside this legislation it is essential that we continue to develop and apply other measures which tackle the causes of crime.

Part I of the Bill deals with sentencing purposes and principles.
The purposes include holding the offender accountable for harm done to the victim and community, providing reparation, denouncing criminal conduct, deterrence, protecting the community and rehabilitation.

The principles of sentencing include the need to take into account the gravity of the offending. The Bill sets out the key principle that courts should impose a penalty near the maximum if the offending is close to the most serious of its type.

The legislation acknowledges the growing importance of restorative justice in which the focus is on empowering and restoring the position of the victim.
Courts are required to take into account the outcomes of any restorative justice processes which have occurred.

The Bill also creates a strong presumption in favour of reparation for victims. There is an extension of reparation to allow payments to recompense victims in a greater range of circumstances.
To strengthen the presumption for reparation where an offender can pay, there is a requirement that judges give reasons if they have not imposed reparation.

There is additionally a strong presumption in favour of fines, placing the financial penalty on the offender where his or her financial means allow it rather than other sentences which add to the costs imposed on the community.

The Bill rationalises community-based sentences to two, community work, and the monitoring and supervision of the offender.

Corrective training which cost over $2 million a year and had a reoffending rate of over 94% is abolished.
So too are suspended sentences which patently failed as a deterrent. They ended up with many offenders serving prison sentences who ought not to have and others left in the community to offend seriously again, when they should have been imprisoned in the first instance.

Preventive detention, which enables an offender to be recalled to prison at any point for the rest of their life is broadened to include those aged 18 and above and to apply to a wider range of serious sexual and violent offences.
It will be able to be used more flexibly, with a minimum sentence of 5 years or longer if the judge so decides.

A more flexible regime is applied to murder, requiring the court to take into account mitigating and aggravating factors.
The Bill retains a strong presumption in favour of life imprisonment for murder. However, in a small number of cases, such as those involving mercy killing or where there is evidence of prolonged and severe abuse, a mandatory life sentence is not appropriate. The court, under this legislation, will be able to consider a lesser sentence.

Where there are serious aggravating factors such as in the case of murder involving torture and abuse, a home invasion or a cold-blooded execution, the minimum period of imprisonment a judge must consider is extended from 10 to at least 17 years.

Parts III and IV of the Bill deal with parole and final release.
The paramount consideration of the parole system becomes protection of the community.
It adopts the principle that the rights of victims should be upheld and victims submissions given due weight. When an inmate facing an indeterminate sentence becomes eligible for parole but it is obvious to the Parole Board that no immediate change in an inmate’s suitability for release is going to occur in one year, a longer period between hearings may be set. This will lessen stress for victims.

There is an increase in the maximum penalty for breach of parole from 3 months to one year in prison. A single national parole board is established to replace the present Parole Board and 17 District Prison Boards. This reform aims to achieve more consistent results and will be more professional and better trained for its tasks.

I welcome the support this Bill has received from across the community and I commend it to the House.

Ends

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