Government moves on "three strikes" law

The Government is delivering on its election campaign commitment to repeal the Three Strikes law with the introduction of the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill, Justice Minister Kris Faafoi has announced.

“The three strikes regime is an anomaly in New Zealand’s justice system that dictates what sentences judges must hand down irrespective of relevant factors,” Kris Faafoi said. 

“It has led to some absurd outcomes. In one case, for example, a person was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for an offence for which the sentencing judge indicated that they would, ordinarily, have imposed 18 months in prison.

“We have even seen the situation, recently, where the Supreme Court had to intervene in the case of an individual with long-standing and serious mental illness to correct what the Court said was so disproportionately severe that it breached the Bill of Rights.

“Those who backed the law argued it would improve public safety – it has not. The evidence remains overwhelming that there has been no effect on violent crime rates since its implementation in 2010.

“Other jurisdictions have also repealed their own versions of three strike provisions, including the Northern Territory, and California repealed aspects of its three strikes law in 2012.

“Before the three strikes law was introduced here there were numerous examples of judges imposing lengthy periods of imprisonment, or other severe penalties, in response to offending. 

“One person convicted of the 2001 RSA murders in Auckland received a life sentence, without possibility of parole for 30 years,” Kris Faafoi said.

The Minister of Justice said other sentencing options and orders exist in New Zealand law already which provide judges the tools to impose the same restrictions as provided by the three strikes law in appropriate cases, such as:

  • preventive detention for repeat serious offenders,
  • public protection and extended supervision orders,
  • minimum periods of imprisonment, and
  • imposing maximum penalties, up to life imprisonment.

“When the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill becomes law, judges will continue to be able to impose severe sentences on serious offenders. They will also be able to take a range of relevant factors into account and tailor the penalty to fit the crime,” Kris Faafoi said.

The three strikes law was put in place by the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010. The law requires judges to hand out particular sentences without allowing them to consider the seriousness of the offending or other circumstances surrounding the offending and the offender.

Cabinet has agreed that the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill, as introduced, will see people who are already sentenced under the three strikes regime serve their sentence as originally imposed. But Cabinet has agreed to invite select committee to consider whether (and, if so, how) the Bill should include provisions for those who have already been sentenced under three strikes.

“This will give the public, opposition politicians and other interested parties the opportunity to make submissions on this and other issues, and I strongly encourage people to have their say on this important piece of legislation,” Kris Faafoi said.

Further information is available on the Ministry of Justice website here: https://www.justice.govt.nz/justice-sector-policy/key-initiatives/repeal-of-the-three-strikes-law