Former National minister to head justice advisory reform group

In what I think is a smart move Minister of Justice Andrew Little has appointed former National MP Chester Borrows to head a criminal justice reform advisory group.

Borrows was a police officer before getting a law degree and practicing as a lawyer before becoming an MP, and served a term as Minister of Courts, so looks to have a good background.

RNZ: Chester Borrows to head criminal justice advisory reform group

Mr Little said Mr Borrows was the obvious choice to chair the group because of his experience in the justice sector.

“I was keen to have Chester on board because of his background as a former frontline police officer, prosecuting sergeant and then later as a defence counsel after he got his law degree.

“He knows the political system, he was a minister outside cabinet, he was a deputy speaker of parliament – he brings a good understanding of the political process as well.”

Mr Little will announce the other members of the advisory group later today.

He said his advice to them was to be “bold” and “courageous” with their recommendations while drawing on experience, science and data.

“We should all be incredibly concerned at a reoffending rate of those in prison of 60 percent within two years of release – that to me is a failure.”

Borrows says that he never liked the three strikes law and was forced to vote for it by the party whipping system.

In his first interview ahead of Justice Minister Andrew Little announcing the group later today, Mr Borrows has blamed political parties’ self-interest in staying in power for the lack of progress in law and order reform.

An example was the three strikes law introduced by National and ACT under the previous government, which Mr Borrows said National never supported but was introduced to appease their confidence and supply partner.

“Three strikes was never part of National’s plan, it came up as a political move because they needed a confidence and supply partner and that was it. I never liked it, I sent that back.

“Unfortunately it was a party vote and you fall under the whip on those occasions and that’s what happened.”

The reality of party politics.

Many of the problems facing the criminal justice sector today were the same issues Mr Borrows dealt with as a police officer decades ago, he said.

“That is because law and order policy is so frequently governed by politics and not by a sensitive and sensible approach to it.”

“If you’ve got politicians too scared to introduce policy that actually might work because it’s seen to be soft on crime they won’t do it because of how it might be reflected in the ballot box.”

There will always be failures in the justice system, some of them high profile and they will be used to by crime and punishment activists.

But Borrows sounds like he could be a good person to lead the review.

And Little looks like a Minister who wants to make a significant difference – but he has a potential problem, party politics, or more to the point, Winston Peters and NZ First.

But with Borrows’ connection to National he may be able to get them onside with justice reform to get the votes with Labour that will get it through Parliament.

I might be able to contribute to the review in a minor way. I now have three years experience dealing with the justice system (ongoing with a possible third appeal plus I have now been dragged into a bankruptcy proceeding as a creditor in which Dermot Nottingham is trying to avoid paying about $220k in court costs that he keeps appealing).

Courts are under a lot of time pressure due to increasing workloads and resigning judges. One problem I have experienced is their lenience with misguided lay litigators who repeatedly fail to follow legal procedures and repeatedly ignore court directions and timetables, and flood proceedings with large amounts of irrelevant paperwork. They should get tough on this, it will save some time in the court system.

And while private prosecutions are an important part of our judicial system they are too easily open to abuse by vexatious litigants who try to inflict costs in protracted hopeless cases.

 

Bail law and remand prisoner numbers

A change to bail laws is credited as a significant reason for a rapidly increasing prison population, but a change in approach by judges has also contributed.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little has indicated he wants to change the bail laws, but this is a tricky political issue. If bail laws are relaxed it’s certain that any significant crime committed by someone on bail will be publicised as a failure.

Longer prison sentences without adequate mental health and addiction treatment also contributes to high levels of recidivism, but examples of that tend to not be publicised so much by those with tough on crime political motives.

RNZ: Relaxing bail laws: How risky is it?

In April, Justice Minister Andrew Little signalled the bail laws might be changed, as increasing remand numbers have seen the prison population balloon.

However, the families of people murdered by someone on bail want the law to remain as it stands.

Almost 1000 more people a year are now remanded in custody than before the bail laws were tightened in 2013, as a result of the murder of Auckland teenager Christie Marceau in 2011.

Her killer, Akshay Chand, was on bail at the time and living just 300 metres from her home, having already been charged with kidnapping and threatening to stab her.

The sad case of Christie Marceau is often used in arguments in favour of being tougher on people charged with crimes (not tryed or convicted).

But some emphasis does need to be put on protecting people who have been threatened or are at risk of violence.

Dr Liz Gordon a social researcher, who is also president of PILLARS, a group helping prisoners’ families, said the average number of murders in New Zealand each year was about 80.

She said when you put that figure alongside the extra 1000 people remanded in custody, it was an emotional over-reaction to suggest Andrew Little would have blood on his hands if he loosened the bail laws.

But emotional over-reactions can be expected from people with political motives. The ‘Sensible Sentencing Trust’ plays on fears of crime.

David Farrar ran a series of posts publicising some of the worse criminals who could potentially receive lighter sentences if the 3 strikes law is scrapped – ‘could’ should be emphasised, as judges usually go to great lengths to apply sentences appropriate to both the convictions they are dealing with and the records of the criminals.

“The mathematics simply doesn’t add up. They’re not going to all get out of the prisons and start murdering like mad and if you find good alternatives for them, perhaps you can actually stop them ever having to go to prison again.”

I don’t think anyone is arguing there should be no bail – I remained ‘at large’ despite a private prosecutor’s demands that I be incarcerated.

We have to have non-imprisonment for many offences and offenders. The difficult trick is where to draw the line.

Dr Gordon agrees Akshay Chand should never have got bail, as what he did was a foreseeable crime, but she said Mr Little needed to take a dispassionate view of what was best before making a final decision on the bail laws.

Chand getting bail was an error of judgment – as things turned out, it’s easy to be wise after the subsequent murder. I’m sure some people who have threatened others haven’t murdered while on bail.

Dr Gordon said there were also other downsides to keeping people on remand in jail, particularly younger offenders, as the remand units are active recruitment centres for youth gangs.

Remanding in custody can set up young first time offenders for further offending.

She is also concerned that, despite it costing more than $100 million a year to keep those 1000 extra people remanded in custody, they received no support while there to improve their lives.

If it costs money to protect the public then money needs to be spent. But…

“Those people are in a very difficult position. They often can’t see their children because visiting days for people on remand is often mid-week and the kids can only visit on the weekend.

“They don’t get access to training courses, drug and alcohol treatment and so on because those things aren’t offered most of the time to people on remand because the argument is [they] … aren’t sentenced and therefore can’t be forced to do programmes [so] … it’s not worth offering them to them.”

More secure medical and treatment facilities may be one way of dealing with this. That means more money in the short term.

Andrew Little was approached for comment, but his office said he would not speak about the bail issue until after a justice summit later this year.

Newshub (16 June 2018): ‘Everything is on the table for justice reform’ – Andrew Little

Justice Minister Andrew Little says “everything” is on the table when it comes to justice reform, including changes to bail, parole and sentencing laws.

Mr Little said that the current model “isn’t good enough” and the 60 percent reoffending rate within two years points to a “failure” in 30 years of punitive criminal justice policy.

“We will have to look at the parole act, the bail act, and the sentencing council – get some cohesion around our sentencing,

“But I think the real game changer is what we can do inside our prisons, and how we can make it systematic across our prison network.”

National’s Mark Mitchell has strongly criticised the Government’s proposed changes, particularly softening bail laws, saying that 98 percent of prisoners are ‘serious criminals’ who would be a danger if released.

The minister rejected that assertion, saying Mr Mitchell “has his figure wrong”.

“Over half the prisoners who enter the prison system in any one year are there for non-violent [offences], what I would characterise as ‘low-level’ offences.”

The minister says that of the criminals remanded in custody (those who are in prison awaiting trial or sentencing) 59 percent get a custodial sentence – but 41 percent do not.

With the number of prisoners on remand getting close to 2,000 this means about 800 of them will end up not being sentenced to prison. That’s a high number.

“The numbers alone tell you, we’ve calibrated our remand decision-making the wrong way. We are remanding too many in custody.”

That’s how it looks – but it can be difficult predicting which people arrested will end up in prison after conviction.

And it doesn’t take many ‘mistakes’ on bail for there to be high profile publicity – one violent assault would be enough to try to clamp down on bail.

Unfortunately bad crime happens despite the best efforts of the police, the justice system and the Minister of Justice and Parliament.

That justice summit could be interesting.

3 strikes repeal struck out

Andrew Little had to retract his promise to repeal the 3 strikes legislation today. He conceded that he wouldn’t have the support of NZ First so didn’t have the numbers.

Making a premature announcement like this is quite a balls up.

Three Strikes repeal not going to Cabinet

A proposal to repeal Three Strikes is not going before Cabinet today on the basis that New Zealand First have indicated they would be unlikely to support it, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.

“I acknowledge New Zealand First has concerns about the Three Strikes repeal. The strength of this coalition is that change only occurs with the support of all three parties.

“Further work on a balanced reform package for a more effective criminal justice system that make our communities safer will be considered by the independent advisory panel to be appointed shortly, and progressed in August at the Criminal Justice Summit.

“We are committed to a meaningful and balanced programme of change and we will be consulting our coalition partners and the public on this over the coming months.

“The reality is that the justice system is not working and we need to make changes to make our communities safer,” says Andrew Little.

The justice system is working, but in some ways not very well so could do with some revisions. however Little needs to learn that you need to get the required support before making promises you may not be able to keep.

In reality retaining the 3 strikes legislation is unlikely to make a big difference. Courts have already overturned 3rd strike sentences as manifestly unfair (showing protections work), so the maximum penalties look likely to be reserved for the worst offenders most deserving of long sentences.

Stuff: Government’s three strikes repeal killed by NZ First

In a press conference on Monday morning Little tried to leave the door open on three strikes being repealed in the future, saying NZ First didn’t support a “piecemeal” approach and wanted to see the total justice reform package.

However, it’s understood NZ First MPs have been working on this issue for weeks. The caucus has no plans to budge on its long-held view of being tough on law and order after seeking feedback from its voter base.

That position is expected to be made clear after caucus meets at Parliament on Tuesday.

That position must have already been made clear to Little given his announcement today.

 

Three strikes to be struck out in two weeks

The three strikes law will be repealed in two weeks, according to Newshub.

This was signalled last November: Justice Minister Andrew Little to repeal three strikes law

“Three strikes – that thing’s gone. You do get this picture of things that are quite cosmetic or things that were big things that can be unpicked pretty much straight away.”

“After eight years of being in effect it hasn’t made a blind bit of difference to serious offending rates which continue to climb,” he says. We have one of the fastest growing prison populations in the Western world. Simply put, it’s not working. We have to find a better way to reduce offending and keep communities safer.”

Today: Govt to repeal three strikes law in two weeks

The three strikes law will be repealed in two weeks, and Justice Minister will also push for sentences shorter than two years to be served as home detention.

The Government is preparing to soften bail, sentencing and parole laws, and Newshub can reveal it’s already discussing how to reassure the public in the event of a high-profile crime.

The Government documents also highlight the extent of the prison overcrowding crisis, saying if big improvements aren’t made in a year, there will be “a failure of the prison system.”

At the next Cabinet meeting in twelve days the Justice Minister will seek approval to repeal three strikes, and push for shorter sentences to be served on home detention.

Andrew Little:

“Repeal of the three strikes, because I think there’s an acceptance now that actually it just doesn’t work.

“If you have a sentence of two years or less you’re at the lower end of the offending, you might have offended before but you’re at the lower end. We can still do something with you. So it’s better that you’re out in the community.

Tova O’Brien:

He’s also planning to revive the last Labour Government’s sentencing council which National scrapped. It provides guidance to judges to prevent tougher sentences.

And people bailed on electronic monitoring will be able to count their bail time as part of their sentence.

Little:

“We’ve had thirty years of this, the only way to deal with crime, get tough on crime, get really hard, lock them up for longer.

Actually it’s not working.

He is also talking about a transition type prison in which prisoners with good records nearing the end of their sentences can live in a flat-like facility where they shop and cook for themselves.

“All it could take though is one person on bail murdering someone to unravel your reforms”. Little:

“Yeah and look, that’s always a possibility. It’s a possibility right now. We know there are people on bail who are offending right now.”

The Government is aware that their changes will need to be seen to be an improvement. They plan on preparing PR strategies for when things go wrong, as they inevitably will with some prisoners or people on bail.

 

 

 

Contempt of Court law to be considered by Parliament

It’s a bit ironic that after nine years as Attorney-General it is from Opposition that Chris Finlayson is got a bill into Partliament that will consider Contempt of Court law changes that would toughen up on criticism of judges, especially via social media, and also publishing information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial .

Audrey Young (NZH): It took a move to Opposition for Chris Finlayson to make progress on contempt law

A proposed new law of contempt, setting boundaries for what can and can’t be said by the media, particularly social media, about defendants, trials and judges is going to be examined by Parliament.

One of the most controversial parts of the bill is likely to be penalties for making untrue allegations against judges, which will attract a fine of up to $50,000 or up to two years imprisonment.

Some abuse of judges was calculated to intimidate judges individually or collectively, said the bill’s sponsor, former Attorney-General Chris Finlayson.

I’ve seen what look like examples of this on a particular website that shouldn’t (mustn’t) be named here (for legal reasons).

“Such abuse is capable of undermining the rule of law. Judicial independence and impartiality is at the heart of the rule of law.”

The previous National Government commissioned the Law Commission to look at the law of contempt. It came up with plenty of recommendations and a draft bill to implement them.

But Finlayson was unable to convince the Ministry of Justice to make it a legislative priority so it languished.

So in Opposition Finlayson adopted the Law Commission’s bill as his own private member’s bill – which was recently drawn from the biscuit tin in the regular ballots for members’ bills.

So it is just by the luck of the draw that has enabled this to be considered by Parliament.

And Justice Minister Andrew Little will seek the support of his Cabinet colleagues to adopt it as a government bill after it passes its first reading, which is likely to be next week.

“Now that it has been drawn and has to be considered, we might as well do it properly,” Little said.

That’s very good to see from Little. He has made a good start as Minister of Justice in the Labour led government, on more than this issue.

The Administration of Justice (Reform of Contempt of Court) Bill will set those laws out in one place and come up with rules that will apply equally to mainstream media, and people commenting or blogging, tweeting or posting publicly through social media on the courts.

It will also cover disruptions in court, jurors who breach the rules by doing their own independent research, the enforcement of court orders, and malicious attacks on judges.

A lot of the time, people did not know what the boundaries were, including tweeters sitting in the back of a courtroom.

“I want to get this thing properly debated for the sake of the system,” said Finlayson.

“I think there is a danger in our system that we become obsessed when looking at justice questions with ‘law and order’ type issues and we don’t look at the other areas that are so fundamental to the efficient and successful running of our state.”

One of the issues on which he expected there would be debate was on criticism of judges.

Judges should not be immune from criticism for their decisions, he said.

“I’m not concerned about judges being criticised for their judgments but I am concerned about the abuse of judges and the attempts to intimidate judges, be it individually or collectively.

“Fair criticism is different from abuse.”

The aim of the bill was to make sure the boundaries were clear and people knew what they can and cannot do.

In the modern era of social media it will be good for this to be clarified.

Little has some concerns about what limitations are put on the criticism of judges.

Free speech versus the functions and  integrity of the judicial system.

What the bill does:

  • A person or organisation commits an offence if it publishes information that could prejudice an arrested person’s right to a fair trial, and is liable for up to six months imprisonment or a fine of $25,000 for an individual or $100,000 for an organisation.
  • Publishing untrue accusations against a judge punishable by up to two years imprisonment and a $50,000 fine for individuals and $100,000 for organisations.
  • A person wilfully disrupting court proceedings may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A person disobeying a court order may be fined up to $10,000 or imprisoned for up to three months.
  • A juror convicted of intentionally researching information relevant to the case is liable for a fine of up to $10,000 or imprisonment of up to three months.

That’s what is being considered by Parliament, it hasn’t been agree on yet.

The first one is of particular interest to users of social media – it is important that the law is clear on this.

Little has concerns about the last one.

He is also opposed to making it an offence for jurors to research cases…

“Most jurors get a pittance as a substitute for their wages. Most are reluctant to be there and they are doing it out of a civic duty,” he said.

“A better balance needs to be struck but that can be dealt with at select committee.”

I would think it would be difficult to discover let alone convict a juror for intentionally researching information relevant to the case.

Blasphemy law likely to be repealed

The blasphemy law, not used for almost a hundred years, will be repealed if legislation introduced to Parliament this week passes, whci seems likely.

RNZ: Outdated blasphemy law to be repealed

Justice Minister Andrew Little introduced legislation on Monday to repeal the decades-old law.

Blasphemous libel is listed in the Crimes Act and comes with a punishment of up to a year in prison but has not been prosecuted since 1922 – and even then was unsuccessful.

Labour sought to repeal the law when in opposition last year, but National blocked its attempt, saying the public should first have a say.

Speaking for the Government Paul Foster Bell opposed the idea that “any form of thought or crime of thought, or of speech or of conscience, should remain part of our criminal code on an ongoing basis” but said that a repeal of blasphemous libel had not been in the bill at the stage where submissions were invited from the public, and because it might be controversial it should not be included at that stage.

The public will get a chance to have a say via submission in the select committee stage of the bill, which should be later this year.

Former prime minister Bill English – a practising Catholic – last year said the law was outdated and should be repealed.

The comments were echoed by the bishops of the New Zealand Anglican Church who said God did not need to be defended by a statute.

There may not be much opposition then.

From the Crimes Act 1961:

Part 7

Crimes against religion, morality, and public welfare

Crime against religion

123 Blasphemous libel

(1) Every one is liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 1 year who publishes any blasphemous libel.

(2) Whether any particular published matter is or is not a blasphemous libel is a question of fact.

(3) It is not an offence against this section to express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

(4) No one shall be prosecuted for an offence against this section without the leave of the Attorney-General, who before giving leave may make such inquiries as he or she thinks fit.

Blasphemy Law in New Zealand

From 1840 until 1893 the English Common Law Charges of blasphemy and blasphemous libel applied in New Zealand. After 1893 the Common Law charges were replaced by a charge of blasphemous libel under the Criminal Code Act 1893, and then from 1908 by the same charge under the Crimes Acts of 1908 and 1961.

An Outline of Blasphemy Law

In the distant past, blasphemy laws were introduced to protect monopolistic religions from all dissent, to prevent apostasy, to maximise the number of believers, and to maximise the income of a religious group and its priests or clerics. Blasphemy was punished variously with death by stoning, burning at the stake, hanging or beheading, lashing, piercing of the tongue and other barbaric and inhumane punishments.

Now, blasphemy laws are largely restricted to Islamic countries. Over 125 non-Islamic countries have no blasphemy laws at all. Such laws are out of place in a modern secular and multicultural society. New Zealand is now one of a very small number of western countries with an archaic, medieval, and anachronistic law against blasphemous libel and an even smaller minority with a prison sentence for this dubious offence.

Wikipedia: Blasphemous libel

Blasphemous libel was originally an offence under the common law of England. Today, it is an offence under the common law of Northern Ireland, it is a statutory offence in Canada and New Zealand, and it has been abolished in England and Wales.

It consists of the publication of material which exposes the Christian religion to scurrility, vilification, ridicule, and contempt, and the material must have the tendency to shock and outrage the feelings of Christians. It is a form of criminal libel.

That isn’t specified in our legislation but I suppose a definition something like that would apply.

It is still illegal at the moment, so please no blasphemous libel in comments.

But you can express in good faith and in decent language, or to attempt to establish by arguments used in good faith and conveyed in decent language, any opinion whatever on any religious subject.

“Actually not that hard” reducing prison population by 30%

Andrew Little, in an interview on The Nation this morning, spoke about his plans to reduce the prison population by 30%, saying “it’s actually not that hard if we choose to resource it properly.”

That’s optimistic – and ‘resourcing it properly’ alongside resourcing health ‘properly’ and resourcing education ‘properly’ and paying for all the Government’s promises and commitments might be a wee bit challenging.

@TheNationNZ:

Little says they’re going to take a sensible approach to reducing the prison muster.

He says there are people in prison who with proper assistance could be set up as productive citizens again.

“We’re not only sending more people to prison, we’re sending them there for longer” says Little, and some prisoners can’t be paroled because there aren’t the resources for them to do the necessary courses.

Little says there’s merit in setting up a sentencing council to ensure consistency in the decisions.

Ministry of Justice research says that more Police officers means more people in prison – but Little says the style of Policing for the 1800 new officers will be around deterring crime.

Time will tell where idealism meets realism. I wish Little well with this, really. Crime, imprisonment rates and mental health problems and drug and alcohol problems are all too big, but reducing them all with budget constraints will be a bit of a challenge.

NZH reported on this: Andrew Little says he will reduce the prison population

The Minister of Justice and for Courts has revealed how he plans to reduce the prison population by 30 per cent during the next 15 years – by ensuring offenders with mental health problems get better rehabilitation and that judges are consistent in sentencing.

Speaking to Three’s The Nation Andrew Little said he was going to approach the issue “very sensibly”.

“It’s actually not that hard if we choose to resource it properly.”

Although some hardened criminals needed to stay locked up because they were a danger to society, a “whole chunk” of prisoners were there because they were battling other issues which had driven their offending, he said.

Too many people with mental health problems and other issues weren’t getting the help they needed while in prison, Little said, and so were unable to meet the conditions they had to get parole.

Ensuring they were properly rehabilitated would make it easier for ex-prisoners to integrate back into society and reduce reoffending.

He also revealed he would review how sentencing and bail was being managed by the courts.

Part of the reason our prison population was so high was because we were jailing people for longer, he said.

Little said the issue was not necessarily with the legislation, but instead more likely stemmed from how it was being applied and enforced.

“What we do have to do is get some consistency.”

Little would also look into how bail was being administered. He questioned whether it was reasonable to lock up many people who had been charged but were yet to be tried.

While there was “no question” the safety of the community needed to come first, it needed to be balanced against the actual risk offenders awaiting trial posed to the public.

Full interview here.

Justice Minister plans to repeal ‘3 strikes’ law

New Minister of Justice Andrew Little plans on repealing the ‘3 strikes’ law that has been one of ACT Party’s few big policy successes. It came into effect in 2010 largely due to the efforts of David Garrett, who struck out himself, failing to last a term.

Newstalk ZB:  Three strikes and it’s out: Labour scrapping controversial law

The three strikes law is itself to be struck out.

Justice Minister Andrew Little said it has had no impact on making the country any safer.

Under the law, judges must impose the maximum sentence on anyone that commits a third violent or serious sexual crime.

Little said there are better ways to prevent crime.

“Make sure that our correction system is doing the job we need to do, which is to change the people who have been anti-social, who have committed crimes, and stop them from doing that. In the end, that’s the way you make people safe,” he said.

Little plans to start the three strikes repeal by the middle of next year.

It will be interesting to see if the Government just repeals the law, or if they introduce different guidelines or law on sentencing.

New Zealand has one of the highest imprisonment rates inn the developed world.

I don’t recall Labour campaigning on repealing ‘3 strikes’, but last year Jacinda Ardern  described it as “an ugly piece of law” – Jacinda v David: Three-strikes law is no home run:

Last week a piece of legislation from 2010 reached a milestone – the first offender was sentenced under the three-strikes legislation.

You may remember this law. It was fairly controversial at the time, and was one of the ACT Party’s babies. David Garrett was the champion of the bill, and having now exited Parliament it was David Seymour who has been left to defend what I can only describe as an ugly piece of law.

I don’t use those words lightly, but when you have a combination of bad law, coupled with populism, I just don’t know what else you can call it. And that’s exactly what three strikes is.

Let’s be absolutely clear though. No one is for a moment implying that if you commit multiple offences that it shouldn’t be taken into account. But judges already have to consider previous convictions as an aggravating factor when they hand down a sentence.

All that the three strikes legislation did was remove the discretion they had over how they factored that in. And examples like this recent case highlight how clumsy the law now is as a result.

The ugly part, of course, is that a law like ‘three strikes’ sounds good – like we’re sending a hard message and that we will all be safer as a result. But what do you do when the evidence shows that that’s not what this law does? Do you fly in the face of facts and evidence just because of the perception? I’d like to believe Parliament is better than that, perhaps it’s time to show it.

So while not promoted as a core policy, and I can’t find any reference to it on the Labour policy website it looks like Parliament is going to strike out  ‘3 strikes’.

Here are the latest Three strikes statistics.

 

Apology for historical homosexual convictions

Justice Minister Amy Adams gave a formal apology in Parliament today for historical convictions of consensual homosexual acts.

Historic moment for NZ gay community

A Bill introducing a scheme to wipe convictions for historical homosexual offences passed its first reading in Parliament today with unanimous support, says Justice Minister Amy Adams.

The passing of the first reading of the Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill followed a formal apology by Parliament to the men who were convicted for homosexual offences.

“Today we put it on the record that Parliament deeply regrets the hurt and stigma suffered by the hundreds of men who were affected and that we recognise the continued effects the convictions have had on their lives,” says Ms Adams.

“The Bill is the next step in righting this wrong. It will allow men convicted of specific homosexual offences decriminalised by the Homosexual Law Reform Act 1986 to apply to the Secretary for Justice to have their convictions wiped.”

The scheme will be open to applications from people with historical offences relating to sexual conduct between consenting men, or by a family member of partner if the person is deceased. The process will be free and applicants need not appear in person.

“There may be instances where the conduct a person was convicted of is still unlawful today, which is why the scheme requires a case-by-case approach,” says Ms Adams.

“If a person’s conviction is expunged, the conviction will not appear on a criminal history check for any purpose and they will be entitled to declare they had no such conviction when required to under New Zealand law.”

The Bill will now be considered by the Justice and Electoral Select Committee.

The Bill: Criminal Records (Expungement of Convictions for Historical Homosexual Offences) Bill

An overdue apology for what today seems like appalling laws that were applied during many of our lifetimes.

 

 

Amy Adams’ speech to Family Violence Summit

The speech by Amy Adams, Minister of Justice and Minister for Children, to the Family Violence Summit in Wellington yesterday.


Tēnā koutou katoa me ngā tini āhuatanga o te wā. Nau mai, haere mai.

Good morning.

Thank you Prime Minister for your opening comments, and thank you Sir Wira for taking on the role of Summit Chair.

I also want to give special acknowledgement to our four keynote speakers who will help set the tone for what I hope will be some incisive discussion today.

And thank you all for being here and for the contributions you make every day to help ensure that New Zealanders are living safer and happier lives.

We live in a country that we can be immensely proud of. New Zealand leads the world in so many ways – we were the first country to give women the right to vote, we have been recognised as the least corrupt country in the world and we are regularly voted the world’s best country to live.

But for too long, New Zealand has also been a world leader when it comes to our reported rate of family violence. It is a tragedy that our rate of family violence is one of the highest in the developed world, with New Zealand Police responding to an incident somewhere in the country every five minutes.

While family violence occurs across all parts of New Zealand society, for Maori in particular far too many homes experience violence and domination as the norm. That’s not what I want any child growing up in this country to see or experience.  I refuse to accept that this is as good as it can be and I am not willing to accept any level of family violence in the future of Aotearoa.

You’ve been invited here, as government agency representatives, NGO representatives, support workers, former perpetrators and survivors of family violence, because I know you share my determination to build a better system and because you all have stories to share and ideas to contribute about how we can do better to tackle family violence.

In working on this challenge we’ve already benefitted enormously from getting on-the-ground perspectives of those who have been working on the frontline, dealing with family violence every day, many of whom are here today.

We’ve also heard from victims who made brave and personal submissions about their experiences with family violence and the devastating impact it has.

And it absolutely does have a devastating impact, not just on the victims but on our society as a whole.

Family violence is affecting us all socially and economically. It’s causing devastating outcomes for children, increasing the youth suicide rate, costing businesses in lost productivity and pushing up our prison population. But more than that it is destroying for many the one thing we should all have and that is a family within which we are cherished and loved.

We can and must do better.

The Prime Minister earlier touched on the kind of family violence system that we’re aiming to get to and I want to spend some time going into a bit more detail about that.

As we’ve delved deeper into the issue of family violence over the past couple of years, we’ve learnt that the system has tended toward ad hoc, isolated and incident-based approaches that fail to properly understand and respond to the nature of family-based violence as an ongoing pattern of behaviour that needs an integrated and holistic response.

Simply viewing family violence as a responsibility of the Police or of the criminal justice system will at best stop a perpetrator from being able to cause harm for a short period.

We also know that non-aligned responses make it difficult for people to access the help they need. There are too many doors and paths to navigate so many victims and perpetrators either don’t get the right help for their particular needs, or don’t get any help at all.

We hear a lot about the high levels of family violence that goes unreported, but in fact a 2009 report by University of Auckland researchers Janet Fanslow and Elizabeth Robinson found that almost 77 per cent of women who experienced violence at the hands of their partner had told someone about the violence.

But frequently they are telling people outside of what we traditionally think of as the family violence sector. Very often they are actually telling family and friends or counsellors and medical staff.

Around 58 per cent had only ever told family or friends, 16 per cent had told a counsellor or mental health worker and 13 per cent had told a doctor or other health worker.

Compare that to the number of women who had told someone in the ‘traditional’ family violence sector. According to the research, only 13 per cent told Police and just over 2 per cent had told a women’s refuge.

Critically, when women did disclose the violence, far too often no one tried to help or the help was inadequate. For example, of the 77 per cent of women who did tell someone about the violence they experienced, more than 40 per cent said that no one tried to help them. This means that collectively we have been missing opportunities to help and help in the right way.

So when we hear the statistic that says two thirds of family violence incidents go unreported, we should bear in mind that actually the majority of victims have talked about their experience of violence by a partner, it’s just that across our communities we don’t have the mechanisms in place to ensure that victims get the help they need.

From what we know, these findings are still relevant today although we have seen an increase in reporting as a result of heightened awareness and improved practise in the last couple of years.

What it means for us as Government, agencies, NGOs and support workers but also as parents, sisters, brothers, friends and neighbours, is that we are all responsible for taking action. The onus should not be on the victim or left as the job as any particular agency.

You’ll have no doubt heard a lot of talk from us as a Government about social investment. Put simply, this just means ensuring we are intervening early, getting the right services to the right people, to make the greatest difference. It means putting the person who needs us at the centre of designing the approach, not responding agency by agency based on some arbitrary Government department delineation of who does what. And it means making sure that what we do is underpinned by the best evidence we can find.

Bearing in mind that study I’ve just talked about, a social investment approach means we need to arrange our family violence system so that when a victim, or a perpetrator, is brave enough to disclose to someone, anyone, what’s going on, the system is able to support him or her to get the help they need to stop future violence and provide the support needed for the victims, particularly the affected children, to recover from the trauma they’ve suffered.

When I talk about the potential of a social investment approach I always say, “We’re not there yet, but we’ve come far enough that we can see what it could look like and its potential”. The same is true of a fully integrated, effective family violence system. I am certainly not saying we are there yet, but the foundational components are shaping up, thanks to the hard work of many of you, and the structure of where we are going is becoming clear. That’s what I’d like to talk more about this morning.

What I believe we want to see is a future system where there is ‘no wrong door’ – meaning that no matter who a victim talks to about their experience, that person can find the information about what they need to do to help the victim.

To keep victims and families safe, those outside what we’ve traditionally thought of as the family violence system will have access to the information and pathways to know what to do next, and those within the response system will have the processes, protocols, capacity and skills to identify and respond to family violence and work together to keep victims safe.

Key Government agencies and NGOs will identify and understand their role in responding to family violence, provide leadership and mandate to those on the frontline, and support fully integrated practice.

For example, justice sector agencies would provide training for all frontline staff, establish specialist family violence teams, and proactively target high risk perpetrators to prevent violence, while family services will have training on the family violence danger signs and be able to discuss safety strategies with their client. At the same time, housing and welfare services are likely to be fast-tracking financial support and housing for victims and considering how best to prevent a perpetrator from financially abusing their victim.

Family, friends, neighbours and colleagues also have an important part to play. We need a system where everyone is equipped with information and skills to confidently recognise family violence and respond appropriately.

A system where there is ‘no wrong door’ will mean that every victim who approaches someone about their experience is heard, believed and helped no matter where they go.

This takes population-level education and easily accessed and appropriate resources to support family and whanau, workmates and friends to know what to look for and how they can best respond if they see or hear something of concern. The system will then need to know how to respond when these informal calls for help have been made.

So as I have said, we are not yet where we want to be and I’m not naïve enough to think that getting from where we are to where we could be will be easy or quick, but there is a lot of work underway that is supporting us to get there.

The Integrated Safety Response programme (ISR) in particular is showing signs of being a real game changer. It is showing us the full extent of the unmet demand, the necessity for a new approach and some of the critical components of what our future system needs.

Some of those involved in ISR have been quite robust in telling me that starting to deal properly with the complexity of need is causing challenges as the system reconfigures to respond better.

I acknowledge the difficulties and pressures this has created, but they have also been blunt in saying to me that, having seen the difference that dealing with cases of family and whanau violence in this way makes, they can never go back to operating as they did. That tells me we have to stay on this path. It’s not perfect yet but it is teaching us and shaping the future system in ways we’ve never before been able to do.

ISR has been running in Christchurch since July 2016 and in the Waikato since October 2016.

It involves a full complement of the core agencies and NGOs teaming up to ensure that families experiencing violence get the support they need to stay safe.

They do this by getting around a table every day, sharing information, assessing risk, developing and delivering individual family safety plans targeted to people and households that they know are at risk of violence, and working effectively with perpetrators to change their behaviour.

So far it has helped over 28,000 people in Christchurch and the Waikato through the development of over 9,000 family safety plans.

It is clear there have been cases where death or serious harm have been avoided as a result of the information sharing and interagency collaboration that ISR enables.

I’d like to share an example out of the Waikato pilot. An incident was reported to Police by a woman who had been assaulted by a male family member. The assaults had been occurring since the woman was young however this was the first incident that had been reported by the family.

The woman had also previously been abused by another male relative, and as a result that perpetrator was in prison. The male family member, who suffers from multiple mental health issues, had blamed the woman for the perpetrator being in prison.

The ISR team got together and held a Safety Assessment Meeting, after which an immediate referral was made to Disability Support Link. This was arranged through Oranga Tamariki and their High and Complex Needs Coordinator. A multi-agency discussion was facilitated through the Family Harm Prevention Team with DHB Mental Health, Explore and Parent to Parent support.

The male family member was enrolled in an anger management course and Explore have been making weekly visits to the family. The Police Family Harm Team also visited weekly to keep the family engaged until Mental Health took over. The ISR team reported that there have been no further incidents and the male family member is engaging well.

The difference between this response and a non-ISR response is that agencies got together around a table to share information and were able to make an assessment and develop a plan that best meet the needs of the perpetrator while keeping the victim safe. Before ISR, it would have been more difficult to share information and get an accurate picture of what was happening with the family. It is likely that without the ISR, the assaults would have continued.

Another example I’d like to share emphasises the importance of information sharing. As ACC claims are lodged by general practitioners, dentists, physiotherapists and DHB’s, they often provide a more in depth overview of accidents than DHB information. Following a family violence incident, ACC were able to share their information at the ISR table relating to a young victim.

The information provided in this instance detailed a significant claims history which painted a picture of family violence spanning the victim’s lifetime. The claim history significantly influenced the other agencies’ rating of the risk and ultimately helped produce a safety plan for this victim. It also meant that ACC was able to engage and offer support for the injuries sustained.

These are just a couple of examples of how an integrated approach should work – each agency recognising their role and working together to keep families safe. The agencies are not dealing with stand-alone issues that just happen to involve the same family – there is one family with one set of issues and each agency has a role in supporting the solution. The ISR teams in Christchurch and Waikato are making a real difference for families experiencing violence in their communities.

Because we’re committed to keeping every family in New Zealand safe, we want to see this integrated approach being used nationwide. While early signs are very promising, we know that the ISR is still evolving as we learn more every day about how to make it more effective.

That’s why we’re investing another $22.4 million through Budget 2017 to extend and expand the pilots for another two years. This will enable us to gather more information to perfect the ISR design and understand the support it requires to help ensure that a national model is successful.

In addition, ISR is a model based on responding to Police incidents and higher risk Corrections releases. The system needs more than that. Our future state also needs a pathway for self and community referrals where risks and needs can be assessed and acted on before the violence escalates to the formal justice system.

In fact, it is at that stage we have the greatest chance of making lasting changes to behaviour. The legal changes needed to fully implement these pathways are included in the Family and Whanau Violence Bill currently before the Parliament and we are working on designing pilots to test such assessment hubs now.

I mentioned earlier that for the ideal future state to be built, there are a number of critical foundational elements that are required. The Family and Whanau Violence Bill that is before Parliament is one of these and ISR is another, but there are a number of further components that the Ministerial Group on Family and Sexual Violence has been coordinating over the past two years.

No one of these elements should be viewed by itself – they are all intended to work as a whole to support, and allow us to build, a whole new way of working. Anyone looking for an announcement that by itself is the solution to this deeply ingrained, multi-generational issue is at best naïve.

What we do know is that for any future system to be successful, one of the foundations that will be needed is for there to be consistency across all the agencies, services and practitioners in the way they understand and deal with family violence risk.

One of the clear messages that has come through in our consultation with the public and practitioners in this space over the past two years is that a consistent approach to identifying and responding to risk is a critical component of building a ‘no wrong door’ model.

So today I am launching the Risk and Assessment Management Framework (RAMF) which establishes a common approach to screening, assessing and managing family violence risk. Minister Tolley will be launching another of these critical foundational elements in her speech to this Summit later today.

Although many of you working in family violence have your own risk assessment and management methods, we have never had a common approach nationally. Without this, the system is unable to begin to operate with a truly integrated approach. This Framework aims to achieve a level of consistency and best practice that will better support victims to recover and perpetrators to take responsibility.

It supports the ‘no wrong door’ model by helping to ensure that when people seek help for family violence, whatever path they take, they are supported with consistent, professional services that meet their needs.

The RAMF has been developed over the last 18 months with the help and input of a wide range of family violence practitioners, and can I say to all those who have taken part in this process that your detailed involvement has been critical to the RAMF being of the standard necessary to fulfil the important role it has and to ensure that it properly reflects the New Zealand cultural context.

A critical issue is that currently family violence often isn’t picked up until it’s entrenched. Or, if the early signs are recognised, the system is too slow to respond or responds inadequately, causing people seeking help to disengage. We cannot allow victims to be left to flounder on their own or go without support because they couldn’t navigate the system.

The RAMF will establish a more consistent, integrated and proactive approach where victims, perpetrators and their families are well supported through the complex network of agencies, services and practitioners towards a better outcome.

It provides practice values and expected generic practice approaches, including outlining a common understanding of family violence, for:

Generalist service providers – who may encounter victims or perpetrators of family violence as part of their work, but family violence isn’t their core business. This includes doctors, nurses, midwives  and teachers Statutory service providers – these are agencies and individuals whose core or sole business isn’t family violence but that provide statutory or legal responses to victims or perpetrators as part of their work, like Police, court staff, probation officers and some social workers Specialist service providers – these are the service providers whose core mandate is to respond to family violence and practitioners have specialist knowledge and skills, like Women’s Refuge and perpetrator behaviour change services.

Some agencies and practitioners, like the Police or child protection workers, will still develop their own risk assessment tools and approaches tailored to their own practices, but the RAMF will outline broad, high-level expectations to guide this process.

Over the next year, practice guidelines and associated tools and training will be developed for those groups working within the system on a daily basis.

The RAMF is now available for agencies, services and practitioners to review and consider what its expectations mean for how their current approach to family violence may need to adapt.

This is the chance to test the implementation of the RAMF with early adopters so that we can be sure it is fit for purpose, with the aim of rolling it out nationally from next year.

There will be a copy for everyone at the back of the room.

So ladies and gentlemen, we are under no illusions that there is a quick or easy fix that will solve our country’s horrific rate of family violence. It won’t happen quickly and none of us can do it alone.

But changes and better outcomes are absolutely possible and are the responsibility of us all.

If we are to truly change people’s lives and ensure that all children are able to grow up in homes where they feel safe and loved, we need to think differently and we need to work together.

That’s my challenge to you as you go away into today’s sessions and I look forward to hearing about the discussions which take place.

I am certainly acknowledging the parts of the system that Government needs to do and think about differently through funding, legislation, frontline response of agencies and by providing system leadership. I have committed to making this my number one priority for as long as I have the privilege of holding the role that I do.

I began this work with Minister Tolley two and a half years ago as we set up the Ministerial Group on Family and Sexual violence, bringing together colleagues representing 16 different portfolios who all were equally committed to building a better system.

Today is a chance to reflect on the learnings since then, the progress that has been made, and check in on the direction of future travel.

Nō reira, kia kaha, kia maia, kia toa tātau ki te tautoko, te whakapakari a tātou whānau.

Tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou, tēnā koutou katoa.