Labour to repeal Three Strikes Law and National vows to reinstate

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi (File Photo)

Venkat Raman
Auckland, November 12, 2021

The Labour government has introduced draft legislation to Parliament repeal the ‘Three Strikes Law,’ which the National Party has vowed to reinstate if elected to power in 2023.

The ACT Party, which had authored this Bill in 2010 has offered its support to National.

The Law, which directs judges to sentence a third-time serious offender to the maximum sentence, was passed under the National-led government in 2010, under the sponsorship of the ACT Party.

Justice Minister Kris Faafoi told Parliament on November 11, 2021 that his government was fulfilling the Labour Party’s election promise in seeking to remove the Three Strikes Law.

Incongruous and anomalous

“The Three Strikes regime is an anomaly in New Zealand’s justice system that dictates what sentences judges must hand down irrespective of relevant factors. It has led to some absurd outcomes. In one case, for example, a person was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for an offence for which the sentencing judge indicated that they would, ordinarily, have imposed 18 months in prison,” he said.

Mr Faafoi cited a recent incident in which the Supreme Court had to intervene in the case of an individual with long-standing and serious mental illness to correct what the Court said was so disproportionately severe that it breached the Bill of Rights.

“Those who backed the law argued it would improve public safety – it has not. The evidence remains overwhelming that there has been no effect on violent crime rates since its implementation in 2010. Other jurisdictions have also repealed their own versions of three strike provisions, including the Northern Territory, and California repealed aspects of its Three Strikes law in 2012,” he said.

National MPs Simon Bridges (Justice Spokesperson)  speaking, watched by Simeon Brown (Police and Corrections)

According to Mr Faafoi, before the enforcement of the Three Strikes Law, there were numerous examples of judges imposing lengthy periods of imprisonment, or other severe penalties, in response to offending. 

“One person convicted of the 2001 RSA murders in Auckland received a life sentence, without the possibility of parole for 30 years. There are other sentencing options and orders which provide judges with the tools to impose the same restrictions as provided by the Three Strikes law in appropriate cases,” he said.

These include (a) preventive detention for repeat serious offenders (b) public protection and extended supervision orders (c) minimum periods of imprisonment, and (d) imposing maximum penalties, up to life imprisonment.

“When the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill becomes law, judges will continue to be able to impose severe sentences on serious offenders. They will also be able to take a range of relevant factors into account and tailor the penalty to fit the crime,” Kris Faafoi said.

The draft legislation will see people who are already sentenced under the Three Strikes regime serve their sentence as originally imposed. But the Cabinet has agreed to invite Select Committee to consider whether (and, if so, how) the Bill should include provisions for those who have already been sentenced under Three Strikes.

“This will give the public, opposition politicians and other interested parties the opportunity to make submissions on this and other issues, and I strongly encourage people to have their say on this important piece of legislation,” Kris Faafoi said.

National MPs Simon Bridges (Spokesperson for Justice) and Simeon Brown (Spokespersons for Police and Corrections) flayed the move and accused the Labour government of being ‘soft on crime,’ in the face of increasing violent offending and high levels of firearms violence.

Labour is doubling down on its law and order failures with the repeal of the Three Strikes law. This will put public safety at risk. It will be crucial that victims of crime have their voices heard as the government goes through the process of repealing this law. National will be supporting these Kiwis so keep an eye out for future information from us after the First Reading,” they said in a statement.

Mr Bridges said his Party had introduced the Three Strikes law in 2010 to make sure that the worst repeat offenders would not be eligible for parole.

“We passed this law because National, unlike the government, holds serious repeat offenders to account. Criminals convicted and sentenced under the Three Strikes Law have committed an average of 74 offences. Labour is making a mockery of the justice system. With prison violence increasing to its highest levels in years, their rapid and reckless reduction in the prison population and exploding gang membership, Labour is clearly not committed to keeping New Zealanders safe,” they said.

Mr Brown said that victims have been losing faith in the justice system because offenders are not held to account by a Labour Government who employ a catch and release approach to dealing with offenders.

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