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Victims benefit from rare Parliamentary success.

  • July 19th, 2007

In an extraordinary move this afternoon Parliament cut out of the Criminal Justice Reform Bill changes that would have removed victims rights to be heard by the Parole Board. At the request of Sensible Sentencing Heather Roy of ACT moved the deletion of those clauses, and Ron Mark of NZ First made sure the government accepted it.

It is very rare for a Bill to be amended in the House, on an opposition motion. This is a credit to Sensible Sentencing, and to the consistency of two MPs from minor parties.

When the Select Committee reported on the Bill no member even bothered to comment on the Sensible Sentencing Trust submissions begging them on behalf of victims not to remove this right. Labour, National and Green committee members spent pages worrying about confidentiality of evidence of prisoners’ wrongdoing and criminals rights.

They did not spare even a comma of apology for the biggest impact of the Bill on victims, the provisions to shut victims out of the Parole Board hearings.

The Committee  managed to find a paragraph to endorse meaningless weasel words that pretend that parole is a privilege, not a right, but did not even note that the Bill made attendance of victims at hearings a privilege, not a right.

The Parole Board would have been allowed to grant the privilege only to victims who confined themselves to discussing ” the risks to the community..” posed by the criminal’s release, and “ways of managing the risk”. No hearing for them if instead they wanted to protest about the simple injustice of early release, and the hurt it does to them.

At present the Parole Board is not supposed to hear about anything other than the safety of the community. Indeed many of the amendments I tried to get to that law in 2002 were designed to ensure that they could consider other things, like the purposes of sentencing, outrage to the victims, deterrence etc. All failed.But of course victims refuse to be silenced. They talk about justice. The Parole Board is supposed to take no notice of those justice submissions. All decisions must be dressed up as related to “undue risk to the safety of the community”.

So the Parole Board were looking forward to being able to shut out these disturbing stories.

Now, thanks to Sensible Sentencing, the Board can’t lock the door. Their delicate ears will still hear demands that a meaningful part of a sentence be served. They‘ll still have to endure protests against parole’s conversion of a sentence into an insultingly trivial price for vicious crime.

Parliament has pulled back from colluding with those in the justice establishment who are contemptuous of the public demand for real penalties for crime. The scandalous parole process will not go behind doors firmly closed to the victims.

The PC crowd on the Select Committee were quietly patronising about the victim worries in this area when I gave my submission.

I’m delighted now. Parliament will sometimes listen to the people.

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