Government to end “Three Strikes” law


Today Minister of Justice, Andrew Little announced that the Three Strikes law, which was presented to Parliament by the National-A.C.T. Government in 2009, will be replaced.

A.C.T and National have savaged the Government. A.C.T. leader David Seymour claimed Little has created the “evilest clean slate law”. He further said that it was a green light for offenders to go on to commit further serious crime because the deterrence of a harsh sentence would no longer be there.

Mr Seymour is jumping the gun. The announcement was that the law would go and that the legislation to repeal it would be presented to Parliament late next year. It did not say that Mr Little has created new legislation, when it was acknowledged no thought had yet been given to a replacement law. Mr Seymour further ignores the fact that a disproportionately harsh sentence is as dangerous in dealing with an offender in terms of rehabilitation and understanding what s/he did, as a weak sentence that fails to recognize the gravity of the offence/s.

I support its removal as the “Three Strikes” law has led – just like it has in the United States, where the inspiration for the law came from originally – to some grossly disproportionate sentences, such as the case of a prisoner who committed indecent assault in prison on his third strike and had the book thrown at him.

If the Three Strikes system is removed though, I do wonder what will replace it.

What I believe is more urgent is for the legislation governing sentencing to be amended. It is all very well to hand down a sentence, but to have it the accused then only do a fraction of it is to undermine the whole point of that sentence in the first place. For example, if someone commits murder and the sentencing judge hands down 20 years, but the accused is out in 10 years, where is the justice in that. The family and friends of the dead person will be understandably aggrieved by what has happened as they will never see their loved one/friend again. To then be told that the offender will be out after only serving half of the sentence will be seen as a miscarriage of justice.

This announcement is a positive one. However much wider reform is needed. Better allowance for the rights of victims needs to be made; sexual abuse victims need to have greater confidence in the justice system and the police – whilst the latter has made good progress in the last decade, there is still work to be done.

Cannabis referendum a chance for sanity


As part of their agreement with the Green Party of Aotearoa New Zealand, the Labour Party under Prime Minister designate Jacinda Ardern, has agreed to hold a referendum on cannabis. Whilst it will not happen until the latter part of the new Parliamentary term – possibly 2020 – the referendum which will be on whether or not legalize cannabis, comes as New Zealanders acknowledge that the “war on drugs” is not working and that it might be time for a new approach.

There will be some unequivocally opposed to cannabis being legitimized in any form. It will not matter whether it is the decriminalization of cannabis so that small amounts are acceptable, or legalizing the drug. The differences between decriminalization and legalization are significant and it would be true that there are people who do not understand the difference, either as a matter of being deliberately ignorant or or not having had it explained to them properly.

I have been of more conservative persuasion in the past on cannabis. But rather than view it as a criminal issue, I am starting to lean towards the view that addiction to cannabis is a health issue. Rather than criminalizing people and cannabis, I am now of the opinion that the money being pumped into dealing with minor scale cannabis offences should be diverted into helping those who have developed an addiction and setting up associated programmes.

Laws are just that. So are the courts where the sentences are handed down and the jails where the worst of them are carried out. None of them address the causes of addiction to cannabis in the first place, or seek to help anyone other than the victims of criminal offending.

The worst will offend no matter what happens. No matter how one helps them, punishes them or shows sympathy, determined offenders will offend. But what about those who were brought up in a culture of drugs, who have only ever known the debilitating effects that drugs have on families – you cannot blame them for not knowing better if they have not been shown better.

With synthetic cannabis reducing its victims to zombies, and an influx of liquid methamphetamine starting to make its presence felt, a change in how New Zealand is dealing with the lesser end of the narcotics scourge might just be what the doctor ordered. Now we just need to see if New Zealand agrees.

Make addressing violent crime a priority


So, another dairy has been robbed. An occurrence happening all too frequently the length and breadth of New Zealand with the perpetrators getting away just as frequently.

But the worst part of this horror show is the courts. Soft as butter judges playing namby pamby games with peoples lives and livelihoods. The conservative parts of society might call for a return to the gravel pits for such offenders, but this fails to address the core societal issues that are leading to these horrendous crimes in the first place. By this I am talking about the lack of role models in their lives and the presence of drugs; their failure in the school system and a lack of a job.

But at the same time the courts have a job to do and they are failing at it in an abject way. It is almost like in some cases the judges do not care any more. I find it hard to believe that human rights laws for children have advanced to the degree that some say they have and that as a result the judges somehow have their hands tied.

I wonder if part of the justice process, a judge has ever asked an offender what their ambitions in life are. I am certainly not suggesting showing sympathy, but almost none of these offenders have probably thought about where they want to go in life. Maybe – I could be totally wrong, but just assume for a moment I am not – they simply need someone in a position of authority to show them right from wrong. If they don’t care, then that is a different story.

So, what are some of the steps that need to be taken? Several steps:

  • For starters I think Civics/Legal Studies needs to be compulsory in Year 12. Students need to know how the law works because at some point they are going to have to deal with it, so they better learn.
  • A youth policing section needs to be established so that young people learn to work with the police and see that they will only be in their lives if they commit crime or are the victims of crime
  • Synthetic cannabis needs to be banned immediately and all shops given one weeks grace to hand over their stock – all in possession of it should be given an equally short grace period to hand over their private stock
  • Small amounts of cannabis should be decriminalized – police are wasting their time and resources dealing with anything under say 5 grams
  • Importers/dealers and manufacturers of illegal substances should have a 10 year starting jail sentence plus anything purchased using the profits of their criminal activity should be seized and sold – money raised goes to funding drug treatment; non New Zealanders should be deported and permanently barred from reentering

But none of this will work if there is not a co-ordinated approach involving the co-operation of the Ministry of Justice, the Ministry of Social Welfare and the Ministry of Education.

If a rise in tax is necessary to fund this, do it. Done properly, it will pay for itself in time.

The wrongness of synthetic cannabis


Synthetic cannabis is known for inducing what could be described as a zombie like state of being in affected individuals. In the U.S. it is called K2 or spice.

In the last few months, synthetic cannabis has been linked to four deaths in New Zealand and about 20 cased have been referred to the authorities in Auckland on a daily basis. St John Ambulance say that they have seen a spike in synthetic cannabis cases with life threatening consequences.

In July 2017 8 people died in New Zealand from synthetic cannabis. The drug is illegal, having been banned in 2014.

No specific treatment exists for treating people with conditions related to it. The cannabinoids have been linked to cardiac arrest, and loss of faculties, inability to control ones limbs.

We need a comprehensive drug detox programme in New Zealand. The cost of administering such a programme will be paid for in kind by the socio-economic benefits of helping those affected by these substances. Also of concern, which needs an overhaul is the penalty regime for manufacturers as the low penalties ensure that it is an attractive industry for manufacturers of illegal substances to get into. To get on top of this, there needs to be a Ministry of Health/Ministry of Justice task force set up to tackle the supply and the distribution and the effects of damaged individuals in the public domain.

In a broader sense there needs to be an overhaul of the law. How much of the synthetic cannabis problem is because we have tightened on substances that can be inhaled/ingested to the point that people are prepared to commit violent crime in order to fund their habits? And if the law was amended to allow a small amount of cannabis to be on a person, would that be enough to tear the bottom out of the black market, without endangering the community?

But one thing is certain, if this is the way the supposed “War on Drugs” is going, I can understand people wanting out. It has not worked. It was an ideological concept borrowed from the United States. There it has cost billions, been a devastating part of U.S. foreign policy. We do not need to follow suit in prosecuting this war any further.

Addressing banking sector concerns in N.Z.


I remember the onset of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis all too clearly. In the space of about two years 31 separate New Zealand finance companies crashed and burned, taking about N.Z.$3 billion worth of savings with them. The crash of so many companies and the resulting fallout cost numerous jobs, led to criminal trials for fraudulent activity and caused a loss of trust in banks. Nine years later, not having learnt much from the previous crash New Zealand, like the world at large is at risk of another, possibly bigger, crash.

The causes of the 2008 Global Financial Crisis are well documented. In the United States lax banking regulations led to the failure of Fannie Mae’s, Freddie Mac’s, Lehman Brothers amongst others . Hundreds of billions of dollars was wiped from the value of the U.S. economy when Lehman Brothers collapsed. The bailout plan authorized by U.S. President George W. Bush cost about U.S.$700 billion to enact. Following these collapses President Barak Obama passed legislation called Dodd Frank Act which enabled large scale reform of the banking sector, in terms of transparency, tightening up reporting requirements and protecting whistle blowers.

In New Zealand the following are just some of the financial institutions that failed in 2006-2010 (N.Z.$)¹:

  • Capital Merchant Finance ($190 million)
  • South Canterbury Finance ($1.6 billion)
  • Provincial Finance ($296 million with $273 million recovered)
  • Bridgecorp ($467 million)

¹67 went into liquidation or receivership, or entered moratoria all up between 2006 and 2012

I believe that legislation needs to be passed in two respects to bring accountability to the banking sector, but also institute a better code of practice than the one that exists. Elsewhere I have mentioned the need for better whistle blower protection. This is to ensure that the fate of whistle blowers at the Ministry of Transport who exposed fraudster Joanne Harrison and lost their jobs for doing so, is not repeated.

But perhaps the biggest reforms that I think need to be made are to how individuals enter and exit the financial industry, and the range of tools that can be used in dealing with significant breaches. We have the Financial Markets Authority investigating significant breaches, which is well and fine. But, given the size of some of the aforementioned collapses and the fact that individuals who had leading roles in precipitating said collapses were handed what I think were very light sentences, I think the law needs an overhaul.

For small fraud (less than N.Z.$250,000), claims can be dealt with in the District Court and the High Court deals with larger claims. We saw out of the court trials arising from the collapses of companies like Bridgecorp that in many cases the sentences were too light. The sentences did not appear to take into account ill gotten assets such expensive cars. Nor did they appear to stop the defendants from working in the industry again. The sentences should be proportionate to the size of the losses incurred by the investors. Such a scale could look like this:

  • Category E (dealt with in District Court) up to $250,000 = suspension of trading license + fine (up to $250,000) or jail sentence (up to 2 years)
  • Category D – $250,000 to $10 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets or fine (up to $500,000) or jail sentence (up to 5 years)
  • Category C – $10 million to $100 million = loss of financial trading licence + confiscation of luxury assets + fine (up to $1 million) or jail sentence (up to 15 years)
  • Category B – $100 million to $250 million = loss of financial trading licence + plus fine (up to $2 million) + jail (up to 25 years)
  • Category A – $250 million+ = loss of licence + fine (up to $4 million) + jail (up to 40 years) + confiscation of luxury assets + loss of passport

Sound harsh?

Not as harsh as thousands of investors having their retirement plans and anything that they might have been relying on their investments to fund now having nothing to show for their efforts. Not as harsh as hundreds of people working for these forms in good faith finding themselves without a job because of the collapse. Nor as harsh as any community finding that sponsorship of community events and projects have just gone up in smoke.