Address to Sensible Sentencing Trust Conference

  • Judith Collins
Corrections Police

Good afternoon.

Thank you for inviting me to speak at the end of what I understand has been a very interesting and constructive conference for you all.

It is always a pleasure to stand before a group of people who are so passionately dedicated to helping victims of crime.

I would like to start by acknowledging the invaluable work that you all do.

Over the years, you have all stood up and stood firm for the rights of victims.

You have argued that the rights of victims - not the rights of criminals - should be at the heart of the justice system.

While you have been shown an enormous amount of support from your fellow New Zealanders, you have also been criticised, often in very personal terms, for your resolve.

Standing up for what you believe in always takes courage, particularly when it challenges the status quo.

There are people out there who do not want you to succeed.

They believe that violent criminals are somehow not responsible for their actions.

In recent years these people have had some success in subverting the legal system to their viewpoint.

I have two law degrees, which required six years of study at law school.

During that time I sat through numerous lectures and produced numerous papers on the rights of those who break the law.

Not once did my lecturers mention, let alone instil in me an awareness of, the rights of victims.

This belief that it is not criminals that are responsible for their actions, but the rest of us, sends completely the wrong message.

Those who promote this strange morality can be counted on to speak out in opposition whenever reforms are made to the justice system so it better serves victims rather than offenders.

We introduced longer sentences for the most dangerous, repeat offenders so there was less chance they would reoffend and create more victims.

Those who put the rights of criminals before victims opposed us because they said longer sentences would be unfair on repeat, violent offenders.

My Caucus colleague, Paul Quinn MP, has introduced a Bill to take away the rights of prisoners to vote, just as they have taken away the rights of their victims to a life safe from fear.

Those who put the rights of criminals before victims opposed us, saying prisoners who have offended against society have the same rights as everyone else.

We put an extra 300 Police officers into Counties-Manukau, a district where burglars, muggers and car thieves were gaining the upper hand against law abiding people.

Those who put the rights of criminals before victims called putting extra Police on the beat an "ill-considered promise".

It takes courage to stand up for what you believe in.

You have stood firm in the face of criticism from those who want the justice system to favour criminals.

Just a couple of weeks ago I was dismayed to see Labour MP Grant Robertson accusing you of "empty slogans" and "dangerous rhetoric".

Today, I would like to reassure you that you are right to stand up for victims.

Those who serve the victims of crime have a moral authority to speak up and to be heard.

This Government shares your vision of a justice system that is larger than securing prosecutions and ensuring criminals repay their debt to society.

We believe the system should also provide support to people who have been victims of crime and violence, to listen to their needs, to empathise, to show respect and do everything it can to help them rebuild their lives.

There is little any government or any organisation can do to take away the trauma, the fear and the pain of crime.

Repairing the harm of crime is complicated, and every justice system has its limitations.

But there are things we can and should do.

We can make sure victims have access to good information, understand how the system works and understand their rights.

We can make sure victims participate in the justice process and are kept well informed about what is happening and what to expect.

We can send a very strong signal that there is no excuse for crime, and that it will not be tolerated in our communities.

We can make sure our agencies act quickly, sensitively and do everything they can to help victims regain their confidence and sense of safety in the community.

I am very pleased to say that a lot of work is being done in this area.

On 1 July we introduced new Police safety orders that allow Police to remove potentially violent offenders from their homes.

As of 8 August, 335 safety orders had been issued. Each order applies for up to five days and can be used to remove someone when there is insufficient basis to make an arrest but where Police believe there is a likelihood of family violence occurring.

Recently, I opened a new Multi-Agency Centre in Counties-Manukau that provides a safe and supportive environment where victims can get help from a team of Police, Child Youth and Family and health professionals.

The centre will also investigate sexual assault against adults and will assess and co-ordinate the need for intervention with the families of these victims.

There are now three Multi-Agency Centres - in Auckland, Counties-Manukau and Tauranga - with a fourth centre being established in Petone, Wellington.

Another important development was the signing of a Memorandum of Understanding between Police and Child Youth and Family that would enable both agencies to better fight the appalling rates of child abuse we have in this country.

The memorandum outlines how Police and CYF staff will continue to work together to ensure children are kept safe, child abusers are brought to justice and child abuse is reduced.

But perhaps the most important thing we can do is to make a serious commitment to dismantling the production line of criminals.

Fewer criminals mean less crime and fewer victims.

We have given Police more manpower, better tools and stronger laws.

The gangs and organised crime syndicates that cause so much misery in our communities have been receiving a lot of attention from Police lately.

Police have been intercepting record amounts of drugs, closing down gang pads and seizing the ill-gotten gains of criminals.

A strong message is being sent that the Government is coming after them using every resource at its disposal.

Nothing deters criminals like the sight of blue uniforms.

In Counties-Manukau there are now more officers patrolling the streets, the car parks, the malls and neighbourhoods.

With more officers, an opportunity also exists to look very hard at different ways of approaching crime and justice, with an emphasis on preventing crime.

Police are working more closely with communities, to prevent crime at the grassroots.

I saw a great example of this in Mt Roskill where the community has had serious problems with young people joining gangs, disorder and graffiti.

A Community Constable has started a community programme where he takes young people under his wing and shows them there is a better way forward than joining a gang.

He has done an incredible job in that community of putting kids on the right path and building respect for Police and the law.

I am only scratching the surface of the work that is being done.

But the work of Government agencies is only part of the story.

Throughout New Zealand, thousands of volunteers in dozens of organisations so generously give their time, their expertise and their compassion to helping people in the community deal with the aftermath of crime.

New Zealanders are privileged that these people are always willing to step up, to help, to care and to play an important role in addressing the wrongs that have been done.

Not that long ago I was talking to a senior judge who mentioned how hard it was for him to have to listen to all those victim impact reports.

I couldn't help but wonder that if a judge finds it difficult to listen to victim impact reports then what must it be like for those victims to live with the consequences of crime every day?

Your valuable work brings home this reality to people, and inspires change.

I would like to acknowledge your passion, your resolve and your courage.

I would like to congratulate you on your successes, and thank you for standing your ground for the victims of this country.

I wish you all a safe journey home.

Good afternoon, and thank you.