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Parliament Committee Criticises Record Secrecy

Parliament Committee Criticises Criminal Record Secrecy

The Justice & Electoral Select Committee's report on Justice Estimates signals a refreshing concern from the whole committee about the suppression of offender records. "This leads to some hope there may be a cross party commitment to restoring a freedom of speech lost for 30 years", says ACT Justice spokesman Stephen Franks.

"The Justice & Electoral Select Committee report tabled yesterday says "We are concerned that privacy claims intrude unnecessarily upon citizens' rights to offender information, for example offending carried out while on parole. If the public are to have confidence in the transparency of the sentencing and parole system we think there should be no restriction on public access to information which has been presented in open court."

"This followed questioning of the Minister of Justice Phil Goff, about the practical effect of courts refusing to release records even when they have been presented in open court. It means that unless a reporter is present and takes down the information when it is presented in court, the material is effectively sealed, even though the purpose of law requiring open courts is to ensure that the public can see whether justice is being done and know how it is being delivered.

"The committee's uncompromising statement is all the more significant from a committee which includes experienced lawyers Dail Jones (NZ First), Richard Worth and Simon Power (National), Russell Fairbrother (Labour), and Murray Smith (United Future).

"I raised the issue because I have been trying for months to find out from the Courts and the Ministers of Justice and Corrections how many of the Tukuafu burglar clan offences had been committed while they were on parole or early release from earlier offences, given the $1.2 million legal aid defending them on their latest charges.

"I have also been trying to obtain similar information about murderers and rapists due for release. In each case I have been told that the privacy interests of the criminals outweighs any public interest in knowing the cost of previous premature release of these offenders, even though their previous offending record was made available in open court at the time they were convicted.

"I will be pressing to make sure this approach from MPs outside Cabinet is eventually converted to law changes to uphold public access and open justice even though Mr Goff is opposed to it (as the Committee report intimates)" Stephen Franks said.

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