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Call for Enquiry into Justice System Overdue

7 December 2007

Call for Enquiry into Justice System Overdue

“The call by the Ombudsman for a Royal Commission into the criminal justice system is long overdue”, says Marc Alexander, Spokesman for the Sensible Sentencing Trust and recently selected National Party candidate for Wigram.

“The public rightly rouses to anger when it often appears that the system favors the guilty over the innocent. How else could we interpret the ridiculous notion that while a parent who spanked a child for misbehavior could get nine months of supervision, a drunk can kill his flat mate while driving and get a paltry ten months home detention?”

The Ombudsman’s report pulls no punches. In it the loss of public confidence is noted. Also highlighted is the mammoth 70 per cent increase in the operating costs of the Police, Corrections and Justice since 2001-2. Capital expenses have sky-rocketed - a case in point being the new Otago prison formally opened by the Prime Minister on May 11th this year, which will hold 335 inmates at an eye-watering cost of $650,000 per bed. Compare that with real estate prices in the area where you can get a three bedroom house for less than half that. We’d be better off putting them up in a hotel and giving them access to room service.

Nothing touches the raw nerve of the public more than a bunch of empty promises on law and order issues. While the government spins out another series of costly feel-good initiatives amid discussion documents and vision statements, the mistakes pile up.

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The Graeme Burton fiasco that needlessly resulted in the death of a law-abiding fellow citizen is but one of a spate of mishandled and misjudged attempts by the system to give criminals the benefit of the doubt.

What do we make of stories such as when a bunch of 14 and 16 year old girls assaulted a bus driver, beating and kicking him while shouting "kill him" to egg each other on? Or a judge being punched in the head as happened in the Nelson District Court last year? Or Pedophiles like Barry Brown winning $25,000 against the cops for an invasion of his privacy because police wanted to protect the kids in the neighborhood by allowing the community to be informed of their potential risk.

When we see law-abiding people die waiting to be treated in hospital while $11 million is misspent on landscaping our four new prisons, its easy to see the public outrage. Now we find that an Ombudsman is urging a royal commission of inquiry into the justice system. It’s about time.

We have a $40 million "Integrated Offender Management" system within Corrections supposedly designed to reduce re-offending. So how has it fared? Well, the rate of recidivism under this regime has actually increased by 5% (between 2000-1 to June this year). Meanwhile the crime statistics continue to rise unabated. Despite population growth of only 8% since 1999, violent offences have increased by 28% (up 5% in 2006) since then; sexual offences up 17% (8% last year); grievous assaults increased by 65% (7% in 2006); kidnappings and abductions jumped by 70% (30% in 2006); and sexual attacks rose 25% (up 14% in 2006).[1] No wonder confidence has ebbed. Each new failure simply confirms what the public already knows: that those in positions most able to remedy the system choose not to.

The Ombudsman’s report asserts the very things victims of crime have been arguing for the past nine years - nothing less than the wholesale rebuilding of a criminal justice system founded on the prioritized rights of the innocent and the victims of crime. If we don't get the balance between liberty and security right, we'll lose them both. As unpalatable as it may be to those who continue to excuse criminals for their behavior, we must confront one inevitable truth: no matter what extenuating circumstances some may wish to argue on behalf of the criminal, they will never be as innocent as the victims they choose to create.

“The report is more than welcome to those who are concerned that the victims of criminals have been disregarded for too long. It is just a pity that it took the Ombudsman to make the call after one more tragedy, instead of the government responsible for maintaining justice taking the initiative itself,” concluded Mr. Alexander.


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