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Psst to Justice insiders – want to understand your opponent?

  • March 17th, 2011

It will stick in your throats Justice insiders, but buy Penguin's new book – writer Michael Larsen channeling the Sensible Sentencing Trust's Garth McVicar.

It's called Justice – Speaking up for Crime's Silent Victims. That title is one of the few misleading statements in the book. Because New Zealand's victims are no longer silent. As the book explains that is thanks to Garth, his wife Anne (McVicar) Wendy (Pedler) and her husband Graham, Alan Monk, Peter Jenkins, Louise Parsons, Eva Bradley, Sir Russell Pettigrew and now hundreds of other Trust activists and supporters few will have heard of.

The book is like the victim conferences SST organises every year. Objective anticipation says “why on earth would I go there, how can it be anything other than sad, depressing and enraging?"  So I steel myself to duty – and after the first I know that the conferences are not at all depressing.

The conferences are actually inspirational. It is a pleasure to be among victims supporting each other, exchanging experiences with others who genuinely have walked in their shoes. They realise that they need not remain powerless. Instead they can turn into practical politics their rage and disgust at the system of injustice run so smugly for lawyers by lawyers. They learn not to feel helpless. They can help to change the system.

Michael Larsen has done a superb job with the book. It feels more like listening than reading. You hear a professional interviewer more interested in drawing out his subject than his own ego. It is biography or auto-biography – but it is a biography of an organisation as well as of the McVicars.
I know Garth and Anne well enough to tell you it is a shimmering reflection of what SST is about, what they are like. Time with the book conveys what it feels like to spend time with Garth and the people he draws together. That is why I headed this review with the suggestion that his opponents should read it if they want to know their enemy.

The book bounces with Garth's mix of deadly serious purpose, non-stop movement toward the goal, courtesy, enjoyment of life, and celebration of what it should mean to be a New Zealander.
The chapters vary greatly in length. That too imitates time with Garth. There is a narrative, a story thread that connects it all, but also time for exploration of side paths, picnics with ideas, and to get a flavour of his constant encouragement to draw what is valuable (if possible) from everyone who offers something.

Garth's personal integrity is seen in his refusal to distance himself from David Garrett despite his fall from grace (and Parliament)  because of what David achieved.

The victim stories flow naturally, without labouring the point they explain what SST does in addition to the media statements. They give some explanation of why Garth does what he does. Horrible as some of the victim stories are, they draw the reader in to share and enjoy helping.

The apparent simplicity of the book is also insidious. Like Garth's “countrified” air it can mask a mind that has been absorbing and learning and becoming more effective and shrewd with every media experience.

If they can bring themselves to read it Garth's opponents will grind their teeth. With its mix of victim anecdote and policy history it does not even bother to engage them in the abstract discussions they so love.

Fortify yourself for some hero worship.


For more on the Sensible Sentencing Trust, search this blogsite for Sensible Sentencing







<i>Garth's personal integrity is seen in his refusal to distance himself from David Garrett despite his fall from grace (and Parliament)  because of what David achieved.</i>

This seems more in line with McVicar's vision of a justice system that is harsh and merciless unless an offender is wealthy and white. I spent a few minutes searching the SST site for any positions on New Zealand's white collar criminals and the very lenient sentences they receive. Nothing.

  • Max Ritchie
  • March 17th, 2011
  • 8:26 am

All good points and if we were electing a debating society or an upper house I’d probably agree with you, but we’re mainly electing a government and that’s the problem with MMP: the tyranny of the minority. While I do not advocate a return to FPP (although it has its attractions, despite its weaknesses), for the sake of the country we need (and I mean need) a system which results in an executive which can actually do things such as rationalise national super and the host of other things that New Zealand needs if we are to maintain a level of prosperity in the future. Sinking further in comparison to the rest of the world might not matter to the elderly (me) but it surely will be a problem for our grandchildren.

  • Wendi
  • March 17th, 2011
  • 12:15 pm

I too have brought and read the book and agree it is a great read.  
Whether you agree with Garth or not it is an absolute must read for anyone who wants to poke judgement on what the Trust is doing.  Garth asks the hard questions and gets answers to issues that cut to the heart of all NZers.
It provides greater clarity and understanding around how the NZ Justice System has changed over the years, not from Garths perspective but from facts.  Emails with politicians are quoted and these are an interesting read when generally you only hear how the media want it to play.
Well done Garth and SST.  Keep on speaking up for us (all NZers) so that our Justice system can once again become something that is respected and by those that need to 'feared'. Yes and the whole Garratt affair is discussed, not hidden, but discussed openly and thats what is great about this book – its an honest mans thoughts.
Thanks Stephen for your blog.

  • Don McKenzie
  • March 17th, 2011
  • 1:19 pm

Sounds like Danyl McLauchlan should read the book and after that go through our newspapers of the early 1900's and learn what effective punishment was. Stats on murder  while hanging was on the statute books ( relative to population) pre and after abolition (1961)are very revealing.
Before you talk of punishment, first define it. 


Danyl McLaughlan said
I spent a few minutes searching the SST site for any positions on New Zealand's white collar criminals and the very lenient sentences they receive. Nothing.
If Danyl had looked a little further he would have found this on the FAQ page here;
Do you deal with fraud, dishonesty and other forms of non violent/sexual crime?
No, not directly, our focus is primarily on violent and/or sexual crime. We do not directly address other forms of crime, if we did so we would be spreading ourselves too thin and dilute our effectiveness. We need to concentrate on our core message in order to effect change.

If Danyl wishes to start an organisation focused on tougher sentencing for white collar criminals, (a goal which I am totally in agreement with by the way) I am sure he will get plenty of support, and I would be happy to help with suggestions for a website 🙂
Thank You Stephen for posting this, much appreciated. I have not got around to reading the book myself yet as I am too busy!
Peter Jenkins
Webmaster for Sensible Sentencing Trust

  • Christine Murphy
  • March 22nd, 2011
  • 10:24 am

Good to hear that Garth McVicar is fighting for justice for David Garrett’s victims. Or did I misread your post?

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