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Punish crime, not bad thoughts

  • November 8th, 2011

I join Greg King QC in being appalled by National's announcement of "civil detention orders". A critical principle of our criminal justice system is that the state can only lock you up for what you are proven to have done, in proceedings conducted independently to ensure that the state does not abuse that power.

Because of the risk of abuse, we generally accept the risk summed up in the aphorism, "better that ten guilty men go free than that one innocent be convicted".

I've fought for law changes to restore sentences that mean what they say, and the end to playway justice, but never at the expense of the principles that protect us from punishment at the whim of our rulers.  Calling a detention power a "civil order" is Orwellian. Where was our Attorney General while this policy was being hatched?

I can't find the policy detail on National's website, so I'm still hoping it has been misdescribed. But from what has been reported it sounds like a sinister extension of the left/green "precautionary principle".

Worse, it comes from a government that claims to be responding to risk, but coolly rejects the most simple steps to reduce the predictable innocent injuries and deaths that follow the release on parole of most young serious violent offenders. Over 80% reoffend, most within a short period. Every such offense is a preventable offense, for which those responsible for the parole system should be held to account, just as employers are held to account for predictable work injury.

The cynicism of this civil detention policy is even more marked when compared with the government's refusal to countenance  a much more principled way to protect the public – ending concurrent sentencing and restoring cumulative sentencing.

Most serious convicted criminals probably serve no time for most of their crimes, because they are commonly tried for multiple offences, but serve only one sentence, for the most serious. 

This policy is coming allegely to keep people like Malcolm Chaston (killer of Vanessa Pickering) out of circulation when their sentences end. Yet Vanessa's mother Rachel tells me that when she consented to meet Chaston on some mad "restorative justice" initiative, she did not recognise him.

At taxpayer expense he has had his distinctive face tattoos removed. What on earth is the government doing, removing the kind of distinctive markings most likely to warn people to avoid him. If anything they should be looking at ways to make a distinctive brand or warning a routine part of the sentence for irredeemable predators, not giving them the privilege of hiding their own past from their next victims.


  • Kiwiwit
  • November 8th, 2011
  • 4:07 pm

You ask where was our Attorney General while this policy was being hatched? Right in the middle of it, I would say, given his recent secret, extra-judicial dealings with the likes of Ngati Toa.


I asked this of Geoffrey Palmer over the CERRA legislation: if you were in Parliament (as a National MP) could you vote for this? What type of legislation would it have to be for you to cross the floor?

  • Jim Maclean
  • November 11th, 2011
  • 9:21 am

It seems to me that the policy as described in the link does not sentence people for what they "might" do but rather refuses to accept that convicted felons who have made no attempt at rehabilitation are actually required to stay in prison until they are assessed as at little risk of reoffending, which is what we (the gullible public) have been told that preventative detention is already supposed to do.
Although I usually strongly endorse Stephen's position on Justice matters and agree with most of what he said following on from his opening paragraph I absolutely demand that however it is achieved, the government addresses predictible and preventable risk of reoffending by those already proven in court to pose a risk to society.
Forcing a Judge to decide once and for all what might or might not be one offender's state of mind and degree of effort to rehabilitate in ten or twenty years places too great a burden on the Judge at the time of initial sentence. Allowing a second look with benefit of hindsight on likely rehabilitation simply makes common sense to me and protects future victims from a proven offender.
Sadly the "Beast of Blenheim" is likely to prove once again that hand wringing and legal niceties count for nothing when an innocent victim is confronted by someone who has consistently thumbed his nose at the moral constraints which bind most of society from physically harming others and apparently enjoying it.

  • Jim Maclean
  • November 11th, 2011
  • 9:22 am

Oops typo, that should obviouly be "Requires" rather than "Refuses to accept"

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