New Zealand Law Society - Three Strikes Reform Risks Injustice

Three Strikes Reform Risks Injustice

The New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa has expressed their disappointment in the Justice Select Committee's report on the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill.

The Justice Select Committee has not recommended changes to adjust or review the sentences of prisoners who have been sentenced under the three strikes regime. As currently drafted, the Bill will not provide any transitional provision for those serving under the outgoing Three Strikes regime. Prisoners who are already serving extended sentences will not even be considered for parole on the same timeframe as those sentenced for equivalent offending after the regime is repealed.

"This is a huge disappointment for many who campaigned for the end of the three strikes regime,” says Jacque Lethbridge, President of the Law Society.

“The Law Society supports transitional arrangements and consider it is wrong not to re-examine whether there are prisoners currently on sentences which are excessive or disproportionate.” 

Chris Macklin, convenor of the Law Society’s Criminal Law Committee comments, " If the Three Strikes regime is to be repealed on account of its perceived injustice, it is wrong not to include provisions to address unjust outcomes that have already been imposed by the regime. The Justice Select Committee has reported that including transitional arrangements would be too complex. That is difficult to accept, given the Ministry of Justice has already recommended transitional arrangements to this effect.”

The Law Society supported the Ministry’s preferred options for the vast majority of people currently serving second or third strike offences, including:

  • strike two offenders on sentences of two year or less being automatically released after serving 50% of their sentence (17 people),
  • strike two offenders serving sentences of more than two years being eligible for parole after serving one-third of their sentence (189 people), and
  • strike three offenders being resentenced in the High Court (20 people). 

The Law Society also supported the resentencing of strike two offenders serving sentences for murder (14 people).

In the Law Society’s view, this would address the issue of excessive and disproportionate sentence outcomes, which arose in at least some cases where the Three Strikes regime imposed mandatory sentencing requirements. It would not mean that all people who are currently serving a second or third strike sentence are automatically released. Instead, they would become eligible for parole or have their sentences reconsidered by reference to their circumstances and their offending. While resentencing offenders would involve additional hearing resources, reinstating parole eligibility would not.

Mr Macklin notes the flow on effects because of the Select Committee’s decision.

“If the Bill does not provide for transitional arrangements, the only avenue available to people who are currently serving excessive or disproportionate sentences would be to appeal, which for many will be out of reach, and which risks further burden on the court system at the most expensive (appellate) level.

"Parliament still has an opportunity during the Committee of the Whole to make amendments. At least some transitional provisions are required to ensure fair treatment for those already in prison under disproportionately severe sentences from the Three Strikes regime."