Minister of Justice admits N.Z.’s justice system is broken

This is a startling admission to make at any international forum, but to say so at the Universal Periodic Review of Human Rights, which happens every five years in Geneva, is something else altogether.

It is an important admission too, as those who have been short changed by its unwieldy ways will attest. Whether one is a victim of violent assault whose attacker get an unacceptably light sentence or was released on parole early; whether one is a victim of serious fraud and watched the people who took thousands of your dollars, which you will never see again, this is a vital first step in the long road rebuilding the justice system.

Sometimes it is the Police who mess up and fail to take a rape case seriously and the alleged attacker goes on to attack others. Sometimes it is Corrections determining that a previously violent offender is allowed out on parole and within a matter of days has committed new offences. Sometimes it is the Courts handing down a wet bus ticket instead of an actual sentence.

No matter who failed in their duties, the results are the same: a gnawing sense of injustice stoked by the knowledge it was totally avoidable.

National Party Justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell is of a frame of mind that does not understand the importance of speaking for all peoples as Mr Little did when he mentioned various minority groups. He might have gone too far in suggesting that the effects of colonialism are still impacting on our society, as at least Treaty grievances have the benefit of there being a path to remediation, which is something not necessarily available for other ills.

New Zealand’s justice system must work for all New Zealanders – irrespective of age or skin colour, wealth or whether or not they have just become a citizen or have been one their whole lives. It must be built on the principles of a fair and unbiased trial or appropriate hearing. It must not permit guilt unless beyond reasonable doubt; detention in jail longer than it is necessary to determine whether charges will be laid or not.

Do pieces of Act of Parliament such as the David Garrett “Three strikes” legislation work? I am not sure of the answer to that, but it seems patently ridiculous to me for someone to commit say two assaults, do time for them and then get 25 years for stealing a car. It is not that I condone stealing cars – I do not condone any improper or illegal interference with other people’s bodies or property – but to get 25 years for such an offence simply because a clause in legislation was triggered, and not on the merits of the offence harms the offender unnecessarily.

Is there a risk of interference by people in order to pervert the natural course of justice so that a person or interest of theirs may be given a more lenient sentence, or no sentence at all? Quite possibly. No doubt politicians and figures of influence such as the C.E.O.’s of large companies have attempted this, and will try to do so again in the future.

Can the watch dogs – the Privacy, Human Rights Commissioners and so forth – do their jobs without political interference? One would hope so, though former Prime Minister John Key rounded on the Human Rights Commissioner because it criticized provisions in legislation regarding the form and function of the Government Communications Security Bureau in a statutory report. He suggested that it would do well to learn to make submissions like everyone else wanting to be involved in the democratic process.

At the end of the day, this is just the beginning. The Government must now look at how it is going to address the admissions made by Mr Little and regain public confidence in the justice system.


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