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Labour Cabinet split over law changes

Simon Power MP
National Party Justice & Corrections Spokesman

6 December 2006

Labour Cabinet split over law changes

The Labour Cabinet is split over its proposed changes to sentencing laws, says National's Justice & Corrections spokesman, Simon Power.

"The changes proposed in the bill are the opposite of what former Justice Minister Phil Goff was saying last year, so unless he has done a massive U-turn, the Cabinet is split."

The Criminal Justice Reform Bill, which passed its first reading in Parliament last night, creates a Sentencing Council to limit judges' discretion in sentencing, will cut the length of sentences by 25%, enables electronic monitoring for remandees who would otherwise be in custody, and introduces home detention as a stand-alone sentence - moves that were all opposed by Phil Goff."

Mr Power is releasing a report by Phil Goff to the Cabinet Policy Committee last year on 'Credible Options for Reducing Future Inmate Numbers', in which he says 'I do not recommend that any changes be made to the legislative framework [for sentencing] at this time'.

"The Government claims that the purpose of the new Sentencing Council would be to issue sentencing guidelines to judges to 'increase the level of consistency and transparency in decisions', yet last year Phil Goff rejected the idea of a Sentencing Council," Mr Power says.

Mr Goff says in the report that the 'principles and considerations spelled out in the Sentencing Act 2002 provide the guidelines to encourage consistency and transparency in sentencing', and that 'As sentencing is a matter for judicial discretion, it would be inappropriate to impose limits on that discretion beyond those contained in the Sentencing Act'.

"I happen to partially agree with Mr Goff. We already have a Sentencing Council - it's called Parliament. If we want judges to apply the law consistently and transparently then it's the job of elected representatives to change the law accordingly."

Mr Goff objected to a number of other options that have made their way into Government policy, including:
* Electronic monitoring: 'I do not propose electronic monitoring as a condition of bail be reconsidered as this time.' * A 25% reduction in sentence length: 'I recommend that no further consideration is given to lowering maximum penalties of imprisonment.' * Home detention as way to reduce inmate numbers: '... the extent to which home detention can significantly impact on the size of the prison population is uncertain.'


"Can Justice Minister Mark Burton honestly claim this bill has the unanimous support of his colleagues when it proposes the exact opposite of the recommendations that Phil Goff made to Cabinet?

"Perhaps that is why Phil Goff lost the portfolio last year - because he disagreed with the Prime Minister on how to reduce prison numbers. After all, he used to proudly greet news of the rising prison population by saying it 'confirms that the government is delivering on its promise to take a tougher approach to crime'.

"The disagreement has clearly delayed the legislation, when another Cabinet paper canvassing options for reducing the prison population, prepared by Justice and Corrections at the end of last year, says that 'where legislation is needed, it needs to be enacted by April or July 2006 ... in order to impact on the prison construction programme'.

"This bill is more about stopping the increase in the prison population than it is about preventing crime in the first place.

"As Treasury states in the paper, 'the recent policy direction in New Zealand has favoured spending on containment ahead of prevention and with only small increases in rehabilitation and reintegration'," says Mr Power.

For copy of report go to:
http://www.national.org.nz/files/power_goff.pdf

ENDS

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