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Sensible Sentencing and Annette King

  • April 20th, 2008

This weekend is given over to a Sensible Sentencing Trust Conference here in Wellington. This select (invitation only) group of about 200 yesterday had hours of close attention from John Key and Chester Burrows for National, Minister Peter Dunne for United Future, ACT Deputy Leader Heather Roy, NZ First’s Ron Mark, and Labour’s newest hope, Louisa Wall.

Though it is truly inspiring to be there, you ‘d never want to qualify for an insider’s invitation to this annual gathering. One or more of of your family must first be criminally killed.

As Garth McVicar went through the introductions the outsiders lost any habitual bounce.

In that conference hall was suffering concentrated to a degree that is literally unimaginable. I guess if asked most of us could recall half a dozen notorious murder cases at any one time. Yesterday’s hall was full of familiar names – scores of them, and they were only a third of those who wanted to come. As each individual or family group responded to the roll call, their names brought back the headlines, the days of suspense, the Court reports of enraging evidence painfully extracted.  

But the conference shows what Garth has built. Ida Hawkin’s conference speech encapsulated it – after 17 years of suffering she read that Sam Te Hei was in line to get compensation for breach of his human rights in prison. He and another Mongrel had snatched her daughter from the street then kicked her to death before driving over her repeatedly to make her body unrecognisable. Ida described Garth’s entry to her life as “the appearance of an angel”. He gave her the confidence to fight back, and eventually to drive Parliament into the (hasty) Prisoners and Victims Compensation Act.

Victims are transformed when they find a way to stand up, to have influence, to get out of the helpless hurt into action.

I reminisced with Kelly Piggott (mother of Teresa Cormack) about her first visit to Parliament  very soon after she’d contacted Garth. Bedraggled, she felt so defeated she could not look in the eye anyone on the Select Committee. Months later, she was back, almost unrecognisable as the same person. She glowed as she sang with Rowena Marsh the song that became Sensible Sentencing’s theme music for their election advertising.

John Key and Chester Borrows gave the conference the courtesy of time. Politicians commonly whisk in to speak, and are then off. John was there most of the morning. In the true sense of the word he ‘graced’ the gathering with his attention to the people who wanted to talk to him. Chester stayed the whole day, as did Ron Mark, and Heather Roy was there nearly as long.

Justice Minister Annette King earned credit for courage in attending. All there knew that she had an uphill battle given her government’s hypocrisy on criminal justice matters. Still, the victims know that politicians of all stripes are responsible for New Zealanders being the second most likely in the Western world to be victims of crime each year.

Annette swept in just for her speech. That set her up to give one of the most miscued performances I’ve ever seen.  A typical self-congratulatory adversarial recital of policies with no relevance to murder just does not cut it among a roomful of people who’ve actually experienced the difference between the cant and promise of the justice system, and the disgraceful reality.

Many victims walked out. As one explained later over lunch – “it hurt so much to listen to that political bullshit I had to go”. Another said “if I had not left I might have done something embarrassing”.

Louisa Wall compounded the disaster for Labour. I’m sure she could be engaging. She looked striking. With a coat consciously designed to evoke a 19th century blanket and a bone ornament in her hair she was a glorious Goldie come to life. Her fatal mistake was  to over-egg the rangatira act.

This audience is serious. They can and do laugh, but their experiences mean they want to get to substance very quickly. So Louisa’s longish mihi in Te Reo was delivered essentially to herself and clearly for herself. She did not bother to translate.

Though of course there were plenty of Maori in the room, this was not the place for ‘in your face’ exhibitions of identity politics.  

The only outsiders were Catharine and me (as the just retired “legal spokesman” for the Trust), Keith Jeffries (long time instructing solicitor on Trust litigation) and Nikki Pender (who acted superbly for Karl Keukenbecher’s family at the Coroner’s inquiry into Graeme Burton’s uses of his parole privilege)’ and the dedicated Trust personnel.  

In accordance with Trust policy of political non-alignment, on selection as a National candidate I stood down from the Trust “spokesmanship”. The Trust had made the appointment to relieve the media burden on Garth McVicar, especially on technical legal matters. Not surprisingly the media still wanted Garth’s pithy words and my role did not much change. I help with legal and policy advice when asked, but often first saw the Trust’s positions in the media along with everyone else.

The Trust launched with the politicians yesterday a “three strikes” policy. I personally favour more mandatory sentencing but for me an automatic 25 years for a third offence (the same as California) is excessive.

The Trust has more policy to come, and they’re determined to exercise their democratic rights in this election.

The dedication of the people at this meeting is intense. If Labour think they have trouble with the Electoral Finance Act now, wait till nearer the election when the Police are forced to try to stop these victims from telling their fellow New Zealanders who they want elected, and who they don’t.

[Postscript – this morning’s MSM reporting of Annette’s policy announcements remind me of the artificiality of our news. I doubt that anyone at the conference, me included, realised that policy was being announced. It was buried in words long after anyone there had stopped concentrating.]


  • MikeE
  • April 20th, 2008
  • 10:52 am

“Discharging a firearm or doing a dangerous act contrary to section 198 of the Crimes Act”

Would this include law abiding citizens say playing a game of paintball?

One thing I wish to avoid is the Mandatory minimum sentances that came with drug offenses in the USA. Where you ended up with people getting jailed for years, een though they hurt noone, while an violent offender walks.

I realise its not in this law, but I’d wager good money that one of your fellow nats (say Dean or Hutchison who are the current ones asking “reefer madness” type questions in parliament) wouldn’t mind slipping such provisions in.

Lets hope you get in, to keep them on track!

Otherwise.. I support anything that keeps real criminals away from the rest of us.

  • Phoenixer
  • April 21st, 2008
  • 1:27 pm

Stephen, rather than sentencing, I would rather focus on sensible justice process, as I think you have touched on previously. E.g. rules of admissable evidence and inability to list previous crimes in court process. These are the over-lawyered barriers to justice.

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