A question of justice


I have a question for you all. The question is one that has been bugging me for some time, but which in recent months has become more immediate, more urgent. It is a question of justice.

Over the last few years I have become increasingly frustrated with the New Zealand justice system as I am sure many others have too. Our reasons for our frustration will be many and varied, but deep down they all point to the same problems:

  • a failure of the courts to hand down sufficiently grave sentences
  • a lack of acceptance of what they have done
  • a failure to prepare those soon to be released for the post jail world – if they have no money or housing to go to, a potential life of crime await

My frustration stems from watching the rising tide of people who think that Police chases are games. They are not and every time someone is killed or injured because they ran away from a police check point, the Police have to be able to explain what went on to their superiors. But not only that, they have to explain it to the family(ies) of the deceased/injured as well.

The frustration, when I try to boil it down to its basic points stems from two separate issues. One is that there does not seem to be a working deterrent to the problem – i.e. something that would stop or discourage people from running before they even considered it, namely a short period of guaranteed jail time of say 48 hours to see how the offender reacts. To many the New Zealand justice system’s ability and willingness to dispense satisfactorily strong sentences is a joke and those handed down are viewed as being slapped with a wet bus ticket.

But it is not just car chases that make me wonder what the problem in the justice system is. How much crime is driven by socio-economic issues? My guess would be quite a bit. From a very early age, way back when a boy is young and just starting to learn about the world and society around him, too many are missing the adult male role model in their lives and the huge difference having a real male role model can have. If or when the boy is subject to bullying will he decide to fight back and possibly suffer disciplinary action that sets in motion a downward spiral or will he have second thoughts?

Maybe it stems from poverty and not going to school on a full stomach, thereby becoming disruptive in class, because the “second brain” of the body is not having due attention paid to it. Maybe it stems from a lack of love at home with no one being at home when a student gets home from school and so they go out and fall in with the wrong crowd. The brain in ones head is the academic one, but a persons stomach in some respects acts as a emotional brain. Between them they determine what might be described as emotional intelligence.

Maybe, as the case I am about to describe, is simply one of no boundaries being set from an early age and now had that aforementioned feeling of being bullet proof. A 13 year old dying in a crash caused by trying to flee the police was one whose caregiver had described as being out of control.

But, okay, lets assume a person does go to jail and do their time in full. They come out genuinely remorseful and admit to the past offences at job interviews, and then cannot get a job because no one will hire someone with a criminal record. Meanwhile the recently released prisoner has to feed, clothe and do all the other things a person needs to do to live, but cannot find the money to fund it all.

And so, the man who had turned his life around, and owned up to his past is now being denied the means to move forward in life and get away from his negative influences. Thus begins a cycle that I suspect is being played out all too frequently among our former jail bird population.

So, what do we do about this?

Soaring road toll something New Zealanders need to own


At the weekend I read of another fatal crash. This one killed 8 people, including a couple that were supposed to be getting married in May. Coming just a few weeks after a Chinese family in a van were involved in an accident near Tekapo on a gravel road that killed five and injured another three, and with a single week long period in which 26 people were killed, it really is time to confront a sobering problem.

There are only so many excuses we can continue to make for our sky rocketing road toll. And it frustrates me to no end the amount of excuse making that goes on.

How about looking at the many people who do not drive with their lights on when it is raining? Why do so many people go through the red light at the intersection? Or let themselves be found on the wrong side of the road when going around tight bends – the speed signs as one approaches tight bends are there for a reason: its the safest speed it is designed for and if you find yourself on the other side the truck coming around the corner will not be able to stop in time.

It is time to own the fact that we are not great drivers my fellow Kiwi’s. It is time to accept that not all of those pesky tourists who come in from China and elsewhere, who we moan about not knowing the rules are no worse in many respects than us. In many cases, the tourists are politer.

Even if we took the steps that I recommend and made all tourists coming off long haul flights wait twelve hours to get their cars; even if we made them sit a theory test before they were allowed to hire a rental car, it does not change some very sobering facts. It does not change the fact that we do not require for example that all of our new imports have their lights set to turn on when the driver starts the engine – they do in Canada. Nor are our judges consistent in sentencing convicted offenders. This is illustrated by there being at least one offender in New Zealand who has been convicted of drunk driving at least 12 times and was still driving when he last appeared before a judge.

We as New Zealanders have the power to change all of this. We have the power to

  • demand stiffer sentencing;
  • demand that all cars come preset to have their headlights come on when the engine is started
  • Make all licenced drivers get vehicle insurance
  • Make fleeing police an instantly jail worthy offence
  • Require alcohol locks permanently for anyone who drinks, drives and causes death and/or injury as a result of that drunk driving

And there are other things we can do. Such as stop the blame game with tourists, who despite their numbers increasing by 30% in the 10 years to 2014 are involved or cause a declining percentage of crashes involving death and/or injury.

It is our road toll in our country. Lets stop the blame game and own it.

Especially as wild weather, which is another thing our drivers are not good at adapting to, moves up the country. Driving home from work today I went up State Highway 1 briefly and a road that normally has cars doing 80km/h was down to 65-70km/h because of the wind driven rain and crap visibility. Yet I still saw people with no lights on; people driving too fast.

And we wonder why our road toll is so bad.

Attitude change to Police pursuits needed


On Saturday 3 people were killed when the car they were in ran over Police spikes, crashed into a tree and went up in a ball of flames. They were in a car that was the subject of an abandoned Police chase when it went over spikes that punctured the tyres, causing immediate and catastrophic loss of control. As families of the dead prepare to mourn the loss of their loved ones, it is time to have a look at why so many people are making the really silly mistake of running from the Police.

A Police chase starts because it is an offence to evade law enforcement. If the Police see someone has noticed their presence and is trying to evade, it is an offence to harbour or otherwise assist them in their evasion.

Despite this there is a long and sad litany of people who have or killed/injured others as a result of running away from Police chases.

  1. A pregnant woman and fleeing driver are killed in a two car collision.
  2. A vehicle in Lower Hutt flees the Police, flips, injuring 3
  3. An underage driver and passenger killed in a crash fleeing Police

I personally believe that the ability to stop a chase from happening before it starts lies solely in the hands of the person that the Police want to talk to. Simply stopping for the Police will save lives, money, and resources.

However that attitude change is not going to happen unless there is an effective deterrent. It needs to be something that is grave enough to make someone contemplating a pursuit think twice, such as a week or a month in jail for simply evading arrest. Few, if any will want an instant jail rap on their criminal record. The potential impact it would have on ones employment prospects and ability to obtain things like a passport or go overseas because they had committed an offence for which they would receive a jail sentence, is something the sentencing judge should consider remarking on – crime has consequences and often the longer term aspects such as loss of certain liberties could be better highlighted.

For their part though, Police might want to look at the case of Queensland, Australia where officers are only permitted to chase if there is an immediate danger to life or have good reason to believe a serious crime has just been committed. The same applies in the state of Victoria. In South Australia incident controllers can terminate a chase at any time. That said, a lot of chases in New Zealand only last a couple of minutes or even seconds, because Police see that the danger of continuing the pursuit is too hazardous and stop.

But it is all too late for three boys aged 13, 13 and 16 who are now dead, and devastated families wondering how it came to this.

Tasks for Julie Anne Genter on return to work


Associate Minister of Transport Julie Anne Genter, who has been on maternity leave after giving birth to her first child, is back at work this week. Whilst she has been away there has been much going on on our roads, some of it good and some of it quite appalling.

As a result there are number of significant issues sitting on her desk:

  1. Action is needed on our soaring road toll, which is the highest in nearly a decade, having levelled with the 2009 total road toll with five weeks still left in the calendar year
  2. Requiring all road vehicles to have headlights that come on automatically – it is compulsory in Canada and was done to reduce the number of collisions caused in poor visibility
  3. A promise was made to invest $300 million into Christchurch transport as part of the rebuild programme following the earthquakes – let us set priorities for that spending and get on with it
  4. Investigate getting bulk material such as petroleum onto suitable railway carriages and reduce the number of large tankers and such vehicles on roads that are not designed for them.

Whilst these are all good things to be tackling some bigger beasts need to be tackled as well. One of them is reforming the New Zealand Transport Authority from one that is heavily road oriented, into one that works for all modes of transport and their users instead of a lucky chosen few. This is essential work to be done because N.Z.T.A. put little emphasis on rail and the merchant marine, which are better able to move large volumes of material, goods or fuel and are not likely to have to stop as frequently to refuel themselves.

Another one is addressing our carbon challenge. With the Government having announced an impending – even if it is some decades away from fully implementing – ban on oil and gas, we need to significantly up the efforts to develop sustainable, carbon neutral alternatives, which is something that is currently not happening.

It might seem strange to be putting so much emphasis on an Associate Minister, but Ms Genter is the true force in the Transport portfolio, and I think it is only a matter of time before she takes it off Minister Phil Twyford. It is important to note that Ms Genter did her postgraduate research in transport planning and has been the Green Party spokesperson for it since she entered Parliament. Mr Twyford has so far been underwhelming in his ministerial portfolio’s and Transport has not been an exception.

So, I welcome Ms Genter back. The time has come to do some serious policy lifting and before the 2020 election I am expecting to see some significant announcements come from the office of Ms Genter including maybe that she has taken over the portfolio.

Prohibitive road toll demands decisive action


This afternoon on their Facebook Page, New Zealand Police made an unusually blunt and direct statement.

Listen up New Zealand. 

We’re losing far too many people on our roads. 12 in the past week, 336 this year.

Road safety is everybody’s responsibility and your behaviour behind the wheel could change a family forever. Could you live with that?

I am sure the Police were probably quietly itching to put up a much stronger worded statement than that. Maybe a pic or two to jolt people. I would not have blamed them.

The causes of death for these twelve people over the last week will range. Some died from careless driving. Others died from alcohol related incidents. Others died in accidents where too much speed was involved. The results were the same. Several families torn apart. Friends and family wondering how it all came to this.

Cleaning up the remains of human beings from accident sites must be a horrendous job. No ambulance crew, police officer or firefighter looks forward to such events. And each day where they have had such an experience they must surely go home wondering who the people whose lives they literally picked off the road were.

Gavin Hawthorn is a man you do not want to meet on New Zealand roads. But when a man who is on his eleventh (11th) driving charge and has ended the lives of four people across his prior convictions appears in court for his twelfth (12th), clearly not able or willing to learn from his mistakes, there is a responsibility to remove the ability of such people to drive. But not only is there a responsibility to remove their ability to drive, there is also a responsibility to remove their ability to be a threat to the public, which this man clearly is.

It is also time to address our problem with Police chases. Far too many are ending badly. And I think that the problem has a very simple answer. People think that if they can get away from the cops, they will be fine, and so they try to take off inducing a chase. But when the chase comes to an abrupt end in someones fence, crashed or simply caught the Police are going to have much less sympathy for one than if they had simply pulled over when the blue and red lights were flashed. So too will the public, especially if it endangers people or causes a crash or other adverse outcomes that would have been completely avoided had the driver stopped when signalled.

Unfortunately the courts seem to be entirely out of sync with the public, with the Police who bring cases to the courts and prosecute, with society in general. Too much political correctness is coming into decisions. Too often the judge is siding with defendants because they don’t want their careers jeopardized or the “darling little Jimmy (or Jane)” does not normally behave like this.

I don’t honestly care what darling little Jimmy’s behaviour is like. He committed an offence, he can pay the price just like you or I would have had we been in that position. I do not care if someone’s career is going to be jeopardized when they got behind the wheel pissed because when they started drinking, fully sober, they would have known full well then that if they are driving they should not be drunk.

Cut the crap. If judges are not prepared to use the full range of sentences they can hand down appropriately, maybe it is time to consider a career change.