New Zealand Law Society - Law Society sounds warning over proposed ram raid legislation

Law Society sounds warning over proposed ram raid legislation

The Law Society’s Youth Justice Committee convenor Dale Lloyd says criminalising ram raid offending by children and young people is inconsistent with children’s rights.

The New Zealand Law Society Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa appeared before the Justice Select Committee on Tuesday opposing the Ram Raid Offending and Related Measures Amendment Bill.

The Bill introduces a new offence allowing 12 and 13-year-old offenders to appear before the Youth Court and adds new aggravating factors into the Sentencing Act 2002.

The Law Society was among a steady line up of legal and youth organisations voicing their opposition to the Bill which was hurriedly introduced by the previous Government.

“The Law Society acknowledges a particular motivation for the Bill is public concern about this kind of offending by children and young people. However, we strongly agree with the concerns expressed in the Attorney-General’s Report that the Bill is inconsistent with fundamental human rights including the right to be dealt with in an age-appropriate way,” says Ms Lloyd.

“Many international conventions also highlight the need for governments to take a child-centred approach when it comes to criminalising offending. The premise of the Oranga Tamariki Act and long-standing evidence regarding the neurological development of children supports age-appropriate treatment of children and a welfare-based response, rather than a punitive one. It is well documented that early exposure to the criminal justice system can have detrimental, life-long effects,” says Ms Lloyd.

“Further, many children and young people who appear in the youth justice system have routinely been subject to care and protection orders in the past. Research and evidence tells us about the significant reduced capacity for decision-making and the well-known harms that accrue from involvement in the criminal justice system at a young age, including an increased chance of reoffending.”

The United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has indicated the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be raised to at least 14 years of age regardless of offence. Any “creep” downwards of the minimum age of criminal responsibility should be strongly resisted.

“The lack of Regulatory Impact Assessment further highlights a real failure to consider the extent of the policy issue behind this Bill and what alternatives may be available outside of the criminal justice system. We know therapeutic interventions can address this behaviour and reduce reoffending. Many communities and organisations across Aotearoa are working to do just that, several of whom addressed the Justice Select Committee this week.”

Finally, Professor Emeritus Jeremy Finn, a member of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee who also appeared before the Select Committee, stressed the Law Society’s view that conduct which the Bill aimed to address was largely covered by existing offences, negating the need for the proposed new offence.

“Despite our reservations around the Bill applying to 12 and 13-year-olds, serious consideration should be given to whether the policy intent behind the Bill is not already achieved through existing law. If the Bill does proceed, substantial redrafting is required as currently there are real issues about who may be liable for a ram-raid offence. This is the first time a Bill proposes an offence where one person can be both the victim and the offender,” says Professor Finn.

The Law Society will continue to monitor this Bill once the Justice Select Committee release their report.