Address to Sensible Sentencing Trust Victims' Rights Conference

  • Judith Collins
Corrections Police

Good morning, and thank you for inviting me to join you today, and thank you for that kind introduction.

Ladies and gentlemen, I try to get out of the Beehive as often as I can to attend functions such as this.

It's very important to me to keep in touch with the issues that are important to New Zealanders.

One issue I hear about time and time again is unacceptably high levels of crime.

Since becoming Minister of Police, Corrections and Veterans' Affairs, I have travelled throughout the country, and everywhere I go I hear the same plea:

"Minister, please crack down on criminals, bring the gangs and P under control, and make sure our neighbourhoods are safe."

It is not an unreasonable thing to ask of a Government. In fact, this is one of the fundamental reasons that government exists.

People expect safe communities, where they can walk the streets without the threat of violence or intimidation, where they can sleep at night knowing their families are safe in their homes, where there is respect for property, people and the law.

Make no mistake. The people who aspire to such things are by the far the majority in our society.

Yet in recent years there has been a feeling among many New Zealanders that the criminals have been gaining the upper hand.

There is a feeling that while the police are doing a great job in solving crime and catching criminals, the law has in some cases tied their hands behind their backs.

Criminals have been able to shelter behind laws that protect their rights.

Well, I believe that when you commit a serious offence against a person or their property, when you undermine communities and cause people to live in fear, then you lose some of those rights.

Part of the problem is that there are some people, who are not criminals themselves, who have made an industry out of making excuses for criminals.

The government wants to put the brakes on that industry. We are aiming to give Police greater powers to crack down on gangs and their illegal activities.

There are a range of new powers for Police either in the legislative process or about to come into effect. These will help Police stamp out gangs and the ill-gotten gains of organised criminals.

The first is the Organised Crime Bill 2009, which will toughen up the penalties for participating in organised crime, give Police greater powers to carry out surveillance on gang communications, and gives greater powers to remove gang fortifications.

The second major piece of legislation is the Criminal Proceeds (Recovery) Act 2009, which comes into force on December 1st. This law will make it easier for Police to seize the assets and profits of gangs. The law will also be important in the fight against illegal drugs, particularly P.

The more tools we give our Police to fight crime, to lock up criminals and to make sure crime most certainly does not pay, the better.

Frustratingly, roadblocks are sometimes put up. To give a recent example: despite the fact we are set to introduce new, tougher legislation to really clamp down on illegal street racers, there are some people out there who don't want that to happen.

Introducing legislation which is well thought-out, and which works, is no easy feat. Labour's attempt to legislate against hooligans hasn't done the job. Labour members themselves admit that.

In fact, Labour has said they even welcome the fact this Bill closes a loophole which their legislation overlooked. This new Bill allows for vehicles in the name of a third party to be confiscated and crushed.

Unless this Bill becomes law, illegal street racers will be able to continue to commit an offence in another person's car and avoid being penalised.

And that is grossly unfair.

If Labour wants to stick with the status quo, it shows all their claims about getting tough with hoons are nothing more than talk.

They're going soft on crime.

Why members of the Labour party would want to go against the groundswell of support this legislation has among New Zealanders and the Police force is truly baffling.

Not only do the vast majority of New Zealanders want to see the obnoxious and dangerous behaviour of illegal street racers wiped out, they want to see the Government take a tough stance on this.

And we are trying to toughen up the law as much as possible to keep our streets, our communities, safe.

Essentially, we are proposing that:

  • The current law, where after one offence a judge CAN, and after two offences over four yeas a judge MUST, confiscate the vehicle, remains set in stone.
  • On top of that, a third layer of authority is added. This allows the courts to confiscate, and in some instances destroy, a vehicle even if a third party owns or has an interest in it.

This will mean street racers can't get away with it if they are using a mate's car, or if a finance company has an interest in the vehicle.

It's straight-forward and common sense - and it will help clean up the streets for New Zealanders. It helps set the tone for a law-abiding New Zealand.

Labour's softness on boy racers is just another example of the endemic sympathy our society has for criminals.

I have very little sympathy for criminals. They become criminals by their own actions.

So, they should suffer the consequences of those actions.

But, for some reason, there are people out there who would rather look out for the country's burglars, thieves, rapists and killers than those who put their lives on the line to uphold the law.

This government is in the process of introducing Tasers, which will allow our police to subdue dangerous people from a safe distance.

Yet we face opposition from people who put the rights of criminals before the safety of the police and public.

We want to introduce double bunking to our prisons to ensure we don't have to keep dangerous prisoners in police vans as the last government did.

Yet we face opposition from people who are concerned that prisoners will not enjoy sharing a cell.

My message is that prison is entirely voluntary. If they don't want to go to prison and share a cell, then don't commit the crime.

By making excuses for criminals, these people send a very strong signal that crime is acceptable in our communities, that it is an accepted fact of life.

One thing I do not understand is how you can tell someone whose life has been torn apart by crime that it is acceptable. Why should we tell that to victims and their families?

There is nothing we can do to take away the pain of victims of crime.

But there are things we can do to place the needs of victims at the centre of the justice system.

In recent years, the pendulum of justice has swung too far in the direction of the criminals, and away from the victims of crime.

During this term in government, we will be reviewing a raft of laws to bring balance and fairness back to the justice system.

The new Government moved quickly to introduce a number of initiatives to improve the focus and responsiveness of the justice sector when it comes to victims of crime.

I think you need look no further than the recent trial of the killer of Sophie Elliott to see how those who the justice system is meant to be serving can also be those who feel most alienated by it.

Since becoming the Government, we have been looking closely at the entire justice system to find ways that we could make it fairer and less traumatic for victims of crime.

We've been listening to victims, and one of their biggest concerns is the time it takes to bring criminals to justice.

There is an old saying that justice delayed is justice denied.

Frustrating delays in our courts system that have seen the waiting time for District Court trials stretch to one year, and for High Court trials it's 16½ months.

Clearly, an overhaul of New Zealand's criminal procedure was overdue.

Recently, the Ministers of Justice and Courts have outlined a range of initiatives to improve timeliness and efficiency in criminal court cases.

The time has come to reform legislation in a way that ensures all parties in the criminal justice system are better served by improving efficiency, reducing delay and costs, and better using technology where appropriate.

Consultation papers have been released, and a draft bill will be released for consultation at the end of this year, before a final draft is developed for introduction. It is hoped legislation will be enacted by the end of 2010.

The Government is going to undertake a comprehensive review of legal aid in New Zealand. 

The review will look at all aspects of legal aid and explore ways the system can best be structured so that it delivers effective legal services in a way that is cost-effective and sustainable. 

The proposed law change will ensure victims are not subject to financial eligibility tests or need to repay legal aid grants for lawyers needed when attending inquests and Parole Board hearings.

It corrects what many regard as a re-victimisation of the victims of crime.

Many of you will recall how the partner of Karl Kuchenbecker, who was murdered by Graeme Burton, received a letter from the Legal Services Agency asking her to repay $19,000 granted in legal aid for the inquest into his death.

I can only imagine how that felt for the Kuchenbecker family during their time of grief.

We are determined to make sure that does not happen again. Victims should not be treated that way and left uncertain about what payments they will have to make.

That is just the start.

Work is well under way on a further piece of domestic violence legislation to improve the responsiveness of the Family Court and enhance the protection of children.

We're also putting victims at the centre of the justice system by requiring offenders to pay into a fund for victims. This will help address the financial costs that fall on them and ensure that offenders contribute to addressing the harm they cause.

We are looking at removing provocation as a partial defence in murder trials to spare families of victims the additional misery suffered recently by friends and family of Sophie Elliott.

And the Law Commission is close to completing a review of Part 8 of the Crimes Act, dealing with offences against the person.

Finally, we mustn't lose sight of the importance of making sure there are fewer victims in the first place.

No New Zealander should ever be afraid to walk down their street.

No New Zealander should ever be threatened or violated in their home.

No innocent bystander should ever be hurt during a criminal confrontation.

No New Zealander should ever fall victim to a repeat drink driver.

Catching criminals and providing support will always be the first priority for police. But I believe the time has come for us to make a serious commitment to dismantling the production line of criminals.

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

In the future, police will be working even more closely with local authorities and other organisations to create communities where crime cannot take hold, where it is not an accepted fact of life.

One of the biggest benefits of the additional 600 officers will be that police have the capability to more fully explore the possibilities of community policing without compromising frontline services.

This will mean police better integrating into communities, gaining a greater understanding of their needs, and using that knowledge to build more effective community based crime prevention programmes.

They will be able to do more work with young people, and to generate respect for police and the rule of law.

For those who have already committed crime, we will be offering one last opportunity to get back on the straight and narrow.

It's a fact that prisoners who can read and write and have work skills are far less likely to re-offend.

It's a fact that approximately two thirds of prisoners enter prison in New Zealand with drug and alcohol problems.

We'll be boosting the number of prisoners learning industry based skills by 1000 prisoners by 2011.

We will also double the number of prisoners receiving drug and alcohol treatment to 1000 participants a year.

This isn't about pandering to prisoners. It's about giving those that genuinely want to turn their lives around the chance to do so.

The more prisoners we have living productive, law abiding lives, the less crime we will have in the community.

And less crime in the community will mean fewer victims of crime. That's our goal.

Thank you, again for the opportunity to join you today.

In closing, I would like to assure you that this government's approach to criminal justice is fundamentally different from that of our predecessor.

We believe the central purpose of the criminal justice system is not the welfare of the criminal, but the protection of law abiding people and the creation of a better, safer New Zealand for us all.

Thank you.