ACT pledges to abolish cultural reports in sentencing

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch
Aug 09, 2023 |

Photo: RNZ / Dom Thomas

Act Party Leader David Seymour is calling for a dramatic shift in New Zealand’s justice system saying current sentencing practices are failing to keep communities safe.

He pointed to an 83% increase in sexual offenders and a 133% increase in gang members serving electronically monitored sentences for violent crimes since October 2017.

“People are incredulous at weak sentences being handed down for grotesque crimes. How does this happen? Is there a problem with the judges?” Seymour asked, highlighting recent cases of teen Mongrel Mob members receiving home detention for severe crimes, including sexual assault and murder.

According to statistics, almost 9,000 people have been charged with an offence while on home detention since 2016, with over 1,500 offences committed annually.

Seymour said current sentencing principles, as outlined in section 8 of the Sentencing Act 2002, are inadequate and lack focus on public safety.

The ACT leader criticised the existing system, which allows for the consideration of an offender’s cultural background, leading to reduced sentences in some cases.

He cited an example where a man was released on home detention after attacking a pregnant woman, based on a cultural background report.

“The principles set out in the Sentencing Act explain sentencing decisions,” Seymour said.

“The way to change seemingly inexplicable sentencing decisions is to change the underlying principles of sentencing.”

ACT’s proposed changes to the Sentencing Act’s principles include:

  • Clarifying that judges are to impose the least restrictive outcome that does not impose a disproportionate risk to the community.

  • Ensuring judges consider both historical impacts and present risks the sentence may impose on the victim.

  • Abolishing cultural reports and the consideration of cultural background as a principle of sentencing.

Nicole McKee, ACT’s Justice spokesperson, also revealed plans to amend the relevant community-based and home detention sections of the Sentencing Act, alongside improving the information available to judges regarding re-offending risks.

A notable proposal includes requiring judges to consider an offender’s RoC*RoI score (a risk prediction tool managed by the Department of Corrections since 2001) and how it has influenced their sentencing decision.

“It’s time we sent a message to New Zealand that crime will be punished, that criminals can’t get away with light sentences after committing senseless violent acts, and that victims are at the heart of the justice system,” Seymour concluded.”

Chris Lynch
Chris Lynch

Chris Lynch is a journalist, videographer and content producer, broadcasting from his independent news and production company in Christchurch, New Zealand. If you have a news tip or are interested in video content, email [email protected]

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