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Dr Muriel Newman

Justice Matters

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Justice MattersLike other areas of public policy the Justice System is constantly under review. Amongst the many areas that need attention are, firstly, concerns over the large number of convicted offenders, who in spite of being punished by the system continue to commit crime; and secondly, the growing anxiety over innocent people being convicted and sentenced for crimes they did not commit – and guilty people walking free.

Last week, Professor Warren Brookbanks of the Auckland University Law School addressed the first issue in the inaugural Greg King Memorial Lecture. Greg King, one of the country’s best-known criminal lawyers, tragically died at the age of 43 in November 2012, and the event was held in his honour.

According to the organiser David Garrett, the topic “Three strikes – five years on” was chosen because Greg King, like Professor Brookbanks, was opposed to the three strikes legislation when it was enacted, and would have been interested in hearing how it was working.

The Three Strikes Law was introduced by the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act 2010, which amended the Sentencing Act 2002 and the Parole Act 2002. It was designed to reduce recidivism by offenders convicted of major crimes, by warning them of progressively harsher penalties if they continued to offend.

The 40 qualifying offences include all major violent and sexual offences attracting a maximum penalty of 7 years or more, including murder, manslaughter, rape, robbery, aggravated robbery, sexual violation, indecent assault, wounding with intent, abduction, and kidnapping.

Strike one, which involves a warning, occurs when an offender aged 18 or over is convicted of a ‘qualifying offence’. Strike two occurs when a warned offender is again convicted of a qualifying offence, and it requires the offender to serve the whole of the sentence imposed by the judge without parole. Strike three occurs if a twice-warned offender is again convicted of a qualifying offence. At that stage they would be required to serve the maximum term of imprisonment prescribed for the offence without parole.

A third strike sentence varies according to the offence: 7 years imprisonment for indecent assault, 10 years for robbery, 14 years for kidnapping, 20 years for rape, life imprisonment for manslaughter.

Professor Brookbanks explained that there were concerns at the time the legislation was passed that it was not only unjust, in that it departed from the core principle of ‘proportionality’ and was likely to punish many relatively minor offenders more harshly than they deserved, but it would lead to a significant increase in the prison population.

In terms of the success or otherwise of the new law, he concluded that the jury was still out, as none of the empirical data he reviewed indicated that it was having a powerful deterrent effect on criminal offending.

However, Wellington barrister Graeme Edgeler has used the Official Information Act to also examine the success of the new law, and he has found that in the first five years of its operation, there were 5,422 first strike convictions, and 81 second strike convictions, compared to 6,809 convictions for first strike offences in the five years before the law was introduced, and 256 convictions for what would have been second strike offences.

In other words, he found evidence that “strike recidivism appears to be falling much faster than strike offending”. These results indicate that the new law is indeed having a deterrent effect on criminal offending.

In his speech, Professor Brookbanks explained that he last met Greg King at a conference in Auckland early in 2012, dealing with Drug and Alcohol Courts. “Greg’s forensic curiosity had drawn him to Auckland to learn more about this new wave of court-based problem-solving, which has now become firmly established in New Zealand’s criminal justice system”.

Shortly after that meeting, Greg spent two months in the United States on an Eisenhower Fellowship, observing the American prison system and their strategies for reducing the prison population. While there, he produced a paper, A new kind of Court, in which he outlined a proposal for a new type of problem-solving court to help reduce the number of New Zealanders being sent to prison.

In light of developments within the justice system over the last few years, which have seen increasing numbers of specialist courts being established (such as Alcohol and Other Drug Treatment Courts, Family Violence Courts, Homeless Courts, Marae-based Courts, and Community Justice Courts),  Greg’s idea of a single problem solving court has merit.

He explained, “Problem-solving courts in the USA are becoming big business. There are now almost 2700 drug courts nationwide, as well as domestic violence courts, youth delinquency courts, mental health courts, re-entry courts and community justice centers. There are even some specialist veterans’ courts – dealing with the special needs of veterans of the Iraq and Afganistan wars.

“In my view NZ should not ‘overly specialise’ in this way. I believe a single Management Court could adequately and more effectively and efficiently address the totality of an offender’s problems, whatever they may be. Recognising that many offenders suffer from more than one type of criminality problem (many drug addicts also have mental health difficulties and so on) I believe a wider more holistic focus is required in NZ. After all, the court does not provide the specialist professional treatment – it simply directs what treatment is required and monitors compliance. I believe that a Management Court could effectively manage offenders with a wide range of criminality problems…”

He believed the Management Court would compliment our existing criminal justice system, as a “real and viable alternative to imprisonment in a large number of cases”.

He proposed a multi-agency collaborative approach, whereby the Management Court would not only focus on punishment, but also on addressing the offender’s criminality factors and wider social problems that had led to crime such as drug and alcohol addictions, mental health problems, unemployment, educational underachievement, poor housing, as well as family and cultural issues.

He recognised the inability of our court system to oversee compliance with the conditions of a sentence, and was impressed with the difference being made by Management Courts in the US, where offenders were proactively managed towards rehabilitation.

He did not see Management Courts as being suitable for all offenders – only those who needed it, were not facing a prison sentence, and were not a threat to public safety.

The way he saw the system working was that after being found guilty in a criminal court, suitable offenders would be referred to a Management Court. There, a programme would be developed to target their specific criminality needs, including treatment for mental health issues, drug and alcohol abuse, anger management, domestic violence, and any other criminality factors. In addition there would be collaboration with state agencies such as the Ministries of Health, Social Welfare, Education, Housing, Labour, and ACC, as well as private organisations like the Salvation Army, Iwi groups, sporting clubs, community trusts and other support groups.

The Management Court would have wide powers to impose conditions on the offender, to enhance public safety and reduce re-offending, such as curfews, GPS tracking, random drug and alcohol testing, prohibition from going to certain places or contacting certain people, attending counselling and treatment, taking medication, reporting for community work, paying reparation, prohibition from driving, and so on.

In other words, the Management Court would address the ‘issues’ that had lead offenders into committing crime and would help them to find a constructive way forward. Over time this single Management Court model could replace the plethora of separate specialist courts that are now appearing, as a more holistic way of dealing with the complex needs of many offenders.

Without a doubt, Greg King had a passion for justice and he fought vigorously for those who had been the victims of unfair dealings. Many of the murder trials he appeared in were of huge public interest. Among the high profile cases were the 2000 appeal of Peter Ellis, who had spent seven years in prison after being convicted of abusing children at a Christchurch crèche, and an unsuccessful attempt in 2003 to seek leave from the Privy Council to appeal the convictions of Scott Watson for the killing Ben Smart and Olivia Hope. Just months before his death, he successfully defended Ewen Macdonald on charges of murdering his brother-in-law Scott Guy.

Such cases raise the second issue of major public concern with the justice system – how to better ensure that innocent people charged with serious crimes are not found guilty, nor guilty people found innocent.

I asked this week’s NZCPR Guest Commentator Judge Anthony Willy, a retired District Court Judge and former Canterbury University Law Lecturer this question, and his response, “Trial by Jury in New Zealand”, makes fascinating reading:

“In recent times there have been a number of high profile criminal cases in which the jury findings of guilt beyond reasonable doubt, or acquittal have given rise to public disquiet. The list is disturbingly long and includes: The Crew murders, the killing of Ben Smart and Olivia Hope, the Scott Guy killing, the Ellis trial for paedophilia where the jury was allowed to hear evidence which was bizarre by any standards… to name but a few.

“The number and variety of these cases gives rise to a legitimate question of whether or not the jury system is any longer capable of arriving at just and rational outcomes in cases involving difficult questions of fact, married as it often is to complex directions from the judge on the applicable law.

“The paradox is that randomly chosen juries are no doubt capable of deciding cases involving questions which are within their everyday experience and competence, but as the statistics indicate the overwhelming number of those cases are dealt with by judges sitting alone. It is the cases involving difficult questions of scientific evidence, DNA, medical evidence, ballistics and the like, and the complex questions of law to which such cases give rise that occupy juries in the more serious cases. These difficulties are exacerbated by the increasing length of time taken to hear such cases. Randomly chosen Jurors who often have no particular expertise in deciding anything complex are expected to sit and listen to evidence for days, sometimes weeks and then retire to consider their verdict with only their recollection of what a witness may have said days or weeks before.”

In his paper, Judge Willy explains that given the increasing complexity of cases, and the fact that trial by jury is often used as a last resort by the guilty, phasing juries out may be the most sensible way forward. However, he does suggest other reforms such as enabling a Judge to decide if the evidence to be called in a given case is likely to be too complex for a randomly chosen jury, whether specialist juries could be drawn from a roll of suitably qualified persons, or whether assessors could be called to sit alongside Judges to help the Court better understand expert evidence.

Judge Willy concludes, “But probably the most efficient outcome is to simply do away with juries and leave it to Judges to decide all questions of fact and law which arise in court litigation. At least the Judge is likely to be experienced in the business of deciding and will be subject to a transparent appeal if he or she gets it wrong. Less hopeless cases would be run once counsel understands they will likely be met by a raised judicial eyebrow early on in the proceedings. Neither is the Judge likely to be swayed by emotive pleas which fly in the face of the evidence. The net result would be a freeing up of a massive amount of court time and the cost saving that entails, a saving of inconvenience and financial loss to the jurors selected, and the public purse by way of legal aid. Most important the public disquiet which surrounds the sample of cases referred to earlier in this article would be laid to rest.”


Do you agree with Greg King that a single Management Court should replace separate specialist courts, to proactively manage suitable offenders towards rehabilitation?

Vote x 120

 *Poll comments are posted below.


*All NZCPR poll results can be seen in the Archive.

Click to view x 120


It seems like a good idea. perhaps it should be given a try. Kevan
We certainly don’t need separatist marae-based courts so if a single Management Court leads us back to one law for all so be it. Monica
Yes I think it could be okay. John
It appears to be just another court or process to be gone through with further time cost and delay involved. The specialist courts we have can concentrate on one type of crime or failing in society which usually results in more efficient decisions. Chris
We have tried something that does not work as it was expected. Time for a change. Why not three or four judges who operate similar to a Court Martial. No Jurors. This way the judges would be held accountable – probably not that however the convicted would be better served as to their innocence or guilt. John
If the jury system was abolished, then specialist courts would be vital, as the vast range of crime categories would necessitate specialist judges in many fields. Currently we have disgusting disparities amongst judges, when similar crimes come before them. While the PC attitude of so many of the current population is going to make the jury system very suspect in the very near future. I can see a very real need for change rapidly approaching, .. A.G.R.
Sounds sensible to engage a holistic approach. Brian
I also agree with doing away with juries. Dianne
Looks like he is advocating jobs for the boys. Jim
I am uneasy that a Judge can make this choice for offenders until we can be sure we have judges that do NOT make utterly stupid decisions, as many have done in the past. Why give someone who has done evil/wrong a chance to carry on with no worry that they will be jailed & for a LONG time? I DO NOT AGREE with NAME SUPPRESSION or HOME DETENTION as these offer NO PROTECTION FOR A VICTIM. New Zealand JUSTICE is a joke for crims. and utter stupidity for the VICTIMS! Hazel
Just more bureaucratic nonsense to help rehabilitate people who through probably their early life circumstances will never become worthwhile citizens. Remember Ronald Reagan’s famous words ” The most frightening words in the English language are ” I’m from the government and I’m here to help”. Colin
Justice…must be seen to be done..That Matters. Over the centuries the jury system has been criticised due to its input of laymen, uneducated, simple souls brought into an environment totally alien, and frightening. Our Courts have not changed very much from the time of Dickens in that respect, lawyers like the medical profession being almost treated as Gods. Do we really want a Napoleonic justice system, trial by Judges? Just because we think that ordinary human beings are incapable of understanding? What next? A system of having to prove yourself innocent in a Court of Law? Well that would be a saving in financial terms, or would it be, with again the likely extension in financial terms of supporting those who cannot afford to defend themselves. Yes I agree, very few of us ignoramuses have any conceptions of the ins and outs of our present judicial system, or indeed the intricacies of the law. Perhaps that is however in itself, a blessing, rather than an obstacle? Juries are of us all, we the people judge daily as independents on many matters and we make mistakes. That regrettably is the price of being human, but it is a price we have to pay. If court cases are going astray such as those mentioned in both Muriel’s piece and by Professor Warren Brookbanks then I would suggest better legal counsels might be the answer. It would be more beneficial to look at introducing a subject such a basic legal training into our school system. No room for it? Perhaps a solution might be less emphasis on sport and lessons on indigenous cultures! The time could then be put to better use, by a basic knowledge of our legal system. A word of warning like all things… A little knowledge can be a dangerous thing. Brian
I agree with Greg King’s concept, but NOT with the idea Judge Willy proposes of just ONE Judge replacing a jury. A Jury needs to be replaced with 2 Judges at least. Ted
After 20 years working in the Domestic Violence field and 12 years as a Family Court Counsellor I fully support this proposal. It is firmly grounded on reality and common sense. Sam
Sounds O.K. ? David
I think more info is required to comment on this adequately. our judges are very soft on criminals and often very relaxed regarding offences against women and children. for this reason I think there needs to be more research and work on the way this moves forward. children are very inadequately served in this country and there needs to be a big overhaul of the justice system as it relates to violence – both in and out of the home. Julie
The best outcome is a re unification for all concerned! Theodorus
There are to many specialized courts that pamper the criminal and they basically get off with a wet hand shake. Wayne
Should be vigorously pursued. Winifred
Greg King may have been a top lawyer but at the end of the day did not do him much good As our society becomes more abusive prison is the only place for these people as it is not safe to have them in the community sad that our country has come to that also those who are mentally disturbed there is no where else but prison to keep them safe and of course the prison staff are not trained to handle these people but the Govt in there wisdom closed all other places where the mental impair could be attended to GPS monitoring is becoming a joke as they just cut them of and have a good time till caught again. Russell
It sounds like a great idea! better than the current system. Rhys
That’s not a simple question…first one has to consider both your papers in closer conjunction with each other, and with the administration of the Law Courts as now experienced by the protagonists, be they in Crown or Civil courts, and their Counsel. The heading for Professor Willy’s final paragraph may be a misprint or it may be a prediction WITHER JURIES… Whither being where bound, and Wither being fading away. Which do you mean, I wonder? Take those two and compare and discuss…that’s a question for the law profession for the future? Soon? If the quality of reasoning expected from juries is reflected by the quality of any random talk-back chatter and so-called discussion (diatribes, more like!) we hear from twelve or twenty good citizens on the car radio on any daily basis, then the indications for cessation of the jury system are obvious…I would not want my freedom or my life to be decided by some of those expressions of opinion on anything of any import whatsoever. The notion of a Management Court if it is properly and even-handedly administered may in fact reduce recidivism but we won’t know until it is tried and tested. How many people are responsible for reoffending from a sense of frustration and “what-the-hell they all hate me anyway.” How many persons could be salvaged before the multiple-offences cause serious long-term incarceration? There will always be a hard-core block of offenders with whom little can be done, but we do need to better spread the entry to a totality of rehab to a far wider number of offenders. Especially the young. However, I do believe that Juries are no longer suitable for making that first decision about any matter of any serious specifics be they in technical, medical or even some legal issues. When the comprehension and understanding of the minutiae of a case is a mystery to a Jury person, what’s the point in having a jury at all? It’s not a game for the Judge and barristers, nor for those charged, nor for the protagonists in a civil case. Is it? Maggie
Yes – locking people up for relatively petty offenses is expensive, and generally counter-productive. How about also addressing the Clean Slates legislation to bring it into line with Australia’s “Spent Convictions” scheme. Clean Slates still means that a hell of a lot of people are effectively given a life sentence for relatively innocuous behaviour, and one person convicted of an offense can be sentenced to a non-custodial sentence, yet another can go to prison on the same charge, depending on the judge at the time. Sit in a District Court for a couple of days and watch the disparities in the sentences handed down. Andy
I would have preferred the poll ask about getting rid of random juries. I wonder if anyone has looked at the statistics to show whether a particular Court is showing the big drop in “strike” rates. Di
There needs more attention to those who keep on committing crime. This needs to be looked at in detail. Robert
Sounds like a good idea to me. And the “judge only” method needs to be considered although the judge in a South African case involving a runner with springy feet didn’t come out too well. Mike
A positive move . Lance
Juries have no place in the Justice system. Leave to the legal experts to adjudicate. Ian
One law for ALL people White – Maory – Muslim – or whatever. No special courts – no special treatment because of race or belief.. No one is better than the other, no one deserve preferantial treatment.. Johan
NZ is too small for specialized courts. Michael
Offenders must be viewed holistically as there can be many causes of unethical and immoral activity sometimes going back generations. Speciality courts may not adequately address the roots of offending. Dorothy
The specialisation of courts is creating another new industry. A single management court sounds much better. Francis
Greg King’s ideas are good. It makes sense to try to address offenders’ needs otherwise they will just continue re-offending. Brian
I like the idea of Management Courts – they should replace all the specialist courts that are presently being introduced. John
The jury system is outdated now that evidence is so complex. Judge Willy makes a good case for their abolition. Mark
It’s not right introducing separatism into the justice system through marae courts. The Management Court idea sounds more sensible. Why has this idea not been picked up before now? Simon