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Chief Justice babbles

  • July 17th, 2009

There is nothing constitutionally improper in a Chief Justice speaking publicly outside her Court on matters of vital concern to the administration of justice. In the UK, from where we draw our conventions, senior judges have been much more prone to lecturing the government recently.

But nothing is costless. The courts and justice will pay the price in disrespect if the judges are not obviously being wise, and confining their comments to matters on which they are expert. Stray into political partisanship, or even criticise politicians even-handedly, and judges can expect to be treated like politicians.

In the UK there is open hostility between the government and the judiciary, as a once revered criminal justice system decays. It helped deliver some of the lowest crime rates and most free and civil societies in the world. Now the average UK citizen is at substantially greater risk of burglary and violence than US citizens. And our figures are worse.

Our Chief Justice quite properly complains that there are not enough probation officers to run community based sentences. She should speak out about the Executive’s failure to deliver psychological and drug and alcohol treatment  ordered by the courts.

There is nothing wrong in hand-wringing over the increase in prison musters. Our serious violent crime rate is a proper matter for court anguish. But genuine leaders only indulge in hand wringing when they have some necessary but unpalatable solutions to impose.

Our charming and intelligent Chief Justice has raised those matters, but her only ‘solution’ is for the state to declare surrender to criminals, more ‘interventions’ and ‘fences at the top of the cliff’. Her poorly researched speech offers nothing that was not heard ad nauseum in 1960’s idealistic party meetings and university common rooms (and parroted by me in my days as a member of the Prisoners Aid and Rehabilitation Society).

Instead of looking for evidence of what works she’s endorsed the maudlin sentiment of Shirley Smith, another kind and well-meaning but dotty lawyer.

There is good evidence on what works, from countries which have dramatically cut their crime rates. Foremost among them are speed and certainty of consequence. The evidence is clear. The only thing likely to alter our trajectory to having the longest sentences and the highest crime rates is well founded knowledge among those tempted to offend that crime will not pay. Criminals are gambers. Offer them uncertainty, and they’ll back themselves to win the lottery. So the CJ’s speech is lamentably damaging.

She has her own stables to clean, when on her watch the average delay to trial has doubled, the average length of defended trials has more than doubled, the number of judges has tripled over the last 30 years, and the cost of justice is putting it out of reach of all but the rich and those who qualify for legal aid.

The convention that politicians reinforce public respect for the courts was recently strengthened. In a sorry piece of Parliamentary self mutilation the Privileges Committee succumbed to the temptation to slap Heather Roy on the hand. Parliamentarians strenthened their self-tied gags on commenting in Parliament on matters before the courts.

Revisiting that stupidity might be one good outcome of this sad episode.




Gambers? A composite of gamers and gamblers perhaps. Is there any reason not to expect the relationship between parliamentarians and the judiciary not to follow the UK example? I cannot see one.

  • Bob
  • July 17th, 2009
  • 1:02 pm

A timely commentary from a keen observer on the political morass infecting this large and complex topic. Our penal policy lacks imagination and reflects poorly on our political leaders.

  • David Baigent
  • July 17th, 2009
  • 11:27 pm

Bob said.. “…and reflects poorly on our political leaders.”

pfft. A little thought would identify what you see as a mirror that is ‘high lighting’ the errors in the teaching arena, and the purposeful destruction of the two parent family.

Perhaps assisted by a bit of “P” on the side from the ‘partner of the day.’

[…] to take it if we disagreed. We should be; all of us. Edit: Andrew Geddis is in the first position; Stephen Franks is in the second. L Tags: Bomber Bradbury, crime and punishment, Dame Sian Elias, Danyl […]

  • Jim Maclean
  • July 19th, 2009
  • 9:50 pm

What the public demands is quite clear. That people who pose a significant proven danger to society are prevented from doing harm to it. Like most I don’t give a flying fig how that is achieved and I am prepared to pay whatever it costs to achieve it. With serious violent offenders reoffending at a rate of over 70 percent within twelve months it is the height of foolishness to let those people out earlier to reoffend sooner.
There are some ways which are shown to prevent reoffending and a lot more which are claimed to achieve such results but strong evidence suggests to the contrary. Insanity is defined as doing the same thing and expecting a different result. Until or unless an intervention which genuinely works is tried then throw the bloody key away on those who will violently offend again as soon as they are released. Keeping them locked up is expensive but releasing them to comit more mayhem is simply irresponsible.



“Parole is simply another term for early release, and no matter what politicians and spin-doctors may call it parole has been used as an early release mechanism to reduce the prison population for many years – and the majority reoffend and go back to prison.”

I think Garth sums it up quite well. She has been part of our failed justice system for so long all she can think of is more of the same failed methods. You can always doctor a failed program to make it look different, something corrections has been doing for a 100 years. She is a bit like Greg Newbolt, an expert in failed programs.

Friday, 12 October, 10 – 11 am
“Another one bites the dust: New Zealand’s latest experiment in criminal rehabilitation”.

Associate Professor Greg Newbold, School of Sociology and Anthropology

Since 1910, New Zealand has been engaged in a constant search to find a method of rehabilitating criminals that really works. In 1996, inspired by the work of Canadian criminologist Paul Gendreau and others, the Department of Corrections embarked on a new experiment called Integrated Offender Management (IOM). Based on a psychotherapeutic model, IOM involves a complicated and expensive process of identifying an inmate’s ‘criminogenic needs’, creating programs to address those ‘needs’, and applying the programs in the hope of preventing further offending. When initially conceived it was hoped that IOM would produce at least a 25 percent improvement in overall correctional efficiency. Eleven years on, with five-year reconviction rates remaining in the region of 86 percent, it appears that IOM has failed. This paper examines the objectives, strategy, and actual implementation of IOM in New Zealand, and suggests why the project inevitably foundered.

Greg Newbold is an associate professor in the School of Sociology and Anthropology. This paper is taken from his most recent book, ‘The Problem of Prisons’, which is a comprehensive review of the New Zealand prison system and its litany of failed attempts to rehabilitate criminals.

  • Don McKenzie
  • July 26th, 2009
  • 11:37 am

I read somewhere that the Chief Justice had some forty years of “experience” in the legal profession with the implided meaning that we should take extra note of her profound speech. I was reminded of the King of Spains mule who had experienced 40 campaigns, but it was still a mule.

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