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Labour justice policy: victims, public first

2000 web siteNew laws guaranteeing victims' rights and protecting the public by tightening bail rules for hard-core repeat offenders are among the highlights of Labour's Justice Policy, released today by justice spokesperson Phil Goff.

"The Victims of Offences Act 1987 was ground-breaking legislation when it was passed by a Labour Government 12 years ago but it is now time to further strengthen victims' rights.

"Too often our justice system seems to give priority to the rights of offenders. Labour will extend victims' rights to restore balance to our justice system," Mr Goff said.

"National has refused to take the opportunity in its last-minute Victims Rights Bill to make the one legislative change that would make a real difference to victims: making recognition of their rights mandatory rather than discretionary.

"Labour will strengthen victims' rights and enforce mandatory recognition of them. Victims will also be granted the right to be consulted by judges about final name suppression, reparation for victims will be ordered more often and orders will be enforced. Court security will be beefed-up so that victims can observe or testify without fear of intimidation or violence.

"Labour will also move to restore victims' rights to financial compensation which were removed by National Government changes to ACC.

"It's time to stop paying lip-service to victims' rights and make the changes that will make a difference."

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Mr Goff pointed to Ministry of Justice data on offending while on bail, which clearly identifies a hard core of repeat offenders, up to 90% of whom continue to offend while on bail.

"Labour will reverse the onus of persuasion in bail hearings for this hard core of offenders. Those appearing on serious charges who have substantial previous custodial sentences and a record of breaching bail will have to persuade the judge that bail should be granted, rather than police having to persuade the judge that it shouldn't be granted."

The Ministry of Justice reported that the policy would lead to an average 150-280 more inmates being locked up on remand, meaning increased operational costs of $4.3 to $8 million a year to the justice system, and initial capital costs involved in expanding remand capacity. National refused to toughen up its Bail Bill to incorporate Labour's proposed changes.

"The National Government says this expenditure is not warranted. Labour strongly disagrees.

"Getting the hard core of repeat offenders off the street is the key to making big inroads into offending. Every police officer knows the frustration of arresting career criminals, knowing that within hours of being arrested they will back 'on the job'."

Mr Goff said the 14.6% overall growth in crime and the extraordinary 93.0% growth in violent crime since 1990 illustrated the desperate need to introduce real policy change rather than posturing and rhetoric.

"Labour is not interested in entering into a bidding war to 'out-tough' our opponents. If we are serious about tackling crime, we must also be serious about tackling the causes of crime. Labour's Justice Policy will make a real and positive difference to the security of the average New Zealander," Mr Goff said.

Other policy highlights include:

· Greater emphasis on rehabilitation and treatment to break the pattern of re-offending;
· Greater involvement of Maori groups in addressing the causes of Maori offending and in rehabilitation;
· Providing prison work to give inmates work skills, habits and experience;
· Making reparation orders life-time debts;
· Resourcing the much-delayed purchase by police of anti-gang surveillance equipment;
· Greater use of legal protections for those who are prepared to testify against gangs;
· Piloting restorative justice schemes;
· Establishing a judicial commission to bring transparency to the judicial appointment, accountability and removal process;
· Fair compensation criteria for those wrongfully convicted and imprisoned;
· Legal aid reform;
· Halting the privatisation of prisons.

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