New Zealand Law Society - General Election 2020

General Election 2020

We asked all the parties seeking your vote in the upcoming election for their key objectives in the justice portfolio, their plans in relation to access to justice and how they would improve the courts and court processes.

With the General Election to be held on 17 October, LawTalk has sought the views of political parties in relation to their justice policies.

As it has done for the past five elections, LawTalk put specific questions to the parties rather than asking them for general policy statements.

We sent an invitation to each of the political parties registered with the Electoral Commission | Te Kaitiaki Take Kōwhiri on 27 July 2020. In that invitation, we asked each party three questions. Each party was given a limit of 200 words for each answer. Where an answer was longer than 200 words, it was abridged, and this has been noted.

Two parties which were registered on 27 July – Mana Movement and Sustainable New Zealand Party – did not reply either to our invitation or to our reminders.

To ensure the representation is as fair as possible, there was a ballot to determine the order answers to each question are published. Responses are reproduced as received, with any obvious spelling and other minor errors corrected.

1. What are your party’s key objectives in the justice portfolio and how do you plan to meet these objectives?

ONE Party

ONE Party is taking a stand for righteousness and justice. Righteousness is not often used now but it means the quality of being morally right. Basing our policy on these standards our key objectives are:

  • To provide a just and fair penalty for breaches. The law must be applied fairly, consistently, and free from discrimination.
  • Seeking the truth and granting mercy whenever possible.
  • To judge with just and accurate judgement, seeking restoration and rehabilitation.

New Conservative

Our key objectives are to divert individuals from turning to crime, then provide comprehensive rehabilitation to those who enter the justice system.

To achieve the first objective we would provide:

  • Relationship training in schools. Most offenders come from destroyed families. Giving young people the skills to build, develop and maintain healthy relationships is a key to reducing broken relationships and therefore hurt people.
  • Trade training from Year 9. Keeping young people in education is a tool to reduce crime. Help them achieve success.
  • Youth farms where young offenders can choose to be housed in a rural setting learning agriculture, horticulture etc. They would be responsible for their own gardens and rooms, but more importantly their connections to the gangs and drugs would be broken.

To achieve the second objective we propose three stage sentencing.

  • Stage 1 is involvement in work in prison.
  • Stage 2 is an individualised education programme so that every inmate is responsible for gaining some educational outcome.
  • Stage 3 is open prison where they work outside along non-offenders during the day and are incarcerated at night. A big part of this is that the offenders are responsible to make positive choices and changes. They are not released until they have completed all stages.


Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party

Our objective is to change the law on cannabis not just for recreational but to extend the medicinal parameters to go further than just for palliative care as it stands now. We are encouraging people to vote yes in the cannabis referendum and to make further submissions before the bill becomes law.

The New Zealand National Party

National’s key objective in justice is to reduce crime and victimisation.

In addition, I have a personal priority of increasing access to justice without compromising the quality of service and delivery, National’s justice spokesperson Simon Bridges says.

We will achieve this by being tough on crime and deterring offending, with a particular emphasis in addressing and providing quality and consistent access to justice as well as focusing on rehabilitation and reintegration through our social investment approach, led when we were in government by Bill English.

In all sectors of justice the focus will be on practically reducing costs for participants.

The Opportunities Party (TOP)

TOP’s priority to justice is on prevention and rehabilitation. We must deal with the underlying drivers of crime. That is how we bring down offending and re-offending rates. Children who grow up in low income communities, with lower education outcomes, with more behavioural or mental health issues, are more likely to enter the justice system. TOP will address the biggest driver of poverty in New Zealand, which is the costs of housing, and remove the welfare trap with a universal basic income.

The prison system itself does not adequately reduce recidivism, with 43% of released prisoners re-imprisoned within the first 24 months of release. The system must better address the personal circumstances of every offender that has led them into the justice system in the first place. TOP will ensure more financial support to community providers of alcohol and drug treatment facilities, and for social and mental health workers. Wrap-around services are currently provided too little too late, because of inadequate resources and funding. The current Court system supports rehabilitative sentences and treatments, but we must scale up those services and facilities in order for the Courts to take advantage of alternative options to prison for both remand and sentenced offenders.

Vision New Zealand

The processes of our New Zealand Justice System are by nature, convoluted, clinical and punitive. However, the problem that presents itself day in and day out through this system is a human one. Therefore, our solutions speak to the humanity that is caught in the machinery of that system, all supposedly innocent until proven guilty because it is the evidence on trial not the person.

We believe there need to be more formal platforms to support the communities that are predominantly caught in this system. A supportive community engagement programme, for levels of offending, that takes that offending out of the system and back to the community.

New Zealand First Party

New Zealand First’s primary objectives in the justice portfolio is the preservation of human rights, increasing access to the justice system for the everyday Kiwi, reducing the re-offending rate, providing more sentencing framework, and introducing alternatives to imprisonment where necessary.

Our key coalition justice commitments were to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission and to increase the funding to Community Law Centres. New Zealand First has worked with our coalition partner on key justice issues in pursuit of our objectives.

New Zealand First will move into the next election campaigning on issues such as our Sentencing Priorities Bill, Protection for First Responders Bill, Youth Justice Demerit System and introduction of a greater range of non-custodial sentences.

NZ Outdoors Party

To reduce crime so effectively that the criminal justice system becomes redundant.

Our key focus is our children and by personalising education and well-being, promoting a strong connection to their community, this will help our youth thrive, creating more positive opportunities and a less likelihood to fall into crime.

Localism is imperative in supporting this. We encourage community focused decision making by independently elected bodies and promoting education in civil/human rights, critical thinking, personal responsibility and questioning authority, ensuring any social benefit is prioritised locally, whilst any deficiencies are more easily recognised and early intervention can be achieved that optimises positive outcomes for the whole community.

New Zealand Labour Party

We are committed to ensuring less offending, less re-offending, and there being fewer and better supported victims of crime.

We’ve heard from New Zealanders through some of the most extensive community engagement over our criminal justice system ever which have fed into the reports: Turuki! Turuki! from Te Uepū Hāpai I te Ora, and Te Tangi o te Manawanui. We are also taking on board recommendations for reform from the Chief Victims Advisor. Already we have delivered on an expansion of therapeutic courts including an expansion of Alcohol and Drug Treatment Courts to Hamilton, making the AODT courts in Auckland and Waitakere permanent while at the same time continuing the rollout of other therapeutic and specialist courts.

In addition we’re rebuilding the Family Court through a $62 million investment and legislative reforms which will restore the right to legal representation at the start of a case in the Family Court, establish Family Justice Liaison Officers, enhance children’s participation in proceedings that affect them, and increase the remuneration for lawyers for children.

Finally, we are committed to protecting the integrity of New Zealand elections, and voters’ access to the polls.

ACT New Zealand

To protect the safety and property of New Zealand citizens. Every person should feel safe at home, at work and in the public domain. If they become a victim they deserve to be cared for, respected and afforded the ease of a safe environment in which to be heard. A victim’s rights should always trump those of a criminal.

ACT recognises that a one size fits all approach will not work with all offenders and we need an approach to justice that is effective both for the victims and the criminals involved. Repeat offending should not be tolerated and continued offending requires harsher consequences and rehabilitative drive.

The Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

The Green Party key objectives for the justice portfolio are set out in “Think Ahead, Act Now: Our Green Vision for Aotearoa”. The Green Party shares the vision of Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora Safe and Effective Justice Advisory Group: “A justice system that treats all people with humanity, dignity, respect and compassion; recognises the mana inherent in all people and communities; and enables the restoration of that mana whenever it has been diminished”.

Our justice system needs transformative change to achieve this vision. We must move away from mass incarceration; ensure we do not militarise the Police; empower by-Māori, for-Māori criminal justice processes; and remove young people from the cycle of crime. Our justice system must respond to discrimination against marginalised groups, address the underlying causes of offending, and focus on rehabilitating offenders.

Māori Party

The Māori Party’s criminal justice policy calls for a complete overhaul of the criminal justice system. This includes:

  • Establishing a Māori Restorative Justice System.
  • Replacing punitive measures embedded within the current criminal justice system with a system of restorative justice and focusing on rehabilitation.

The New Zealand Democratic Party for Social Credit

Social Credit views justice as not just a legal issue, but, along with law and order, as an economic, social, educational, and moral one. As with all our policies we aim to tackle the causes and not just the symptoms. Hence, finding ways to keep people out of the justice system is a particular focus.

Implementation of our economic policy would see higher educational and skills proficiency achieved by many more people, along with greater income sufficiency, and therefore large numbers of people lifted off low incomes and out of the poverty trap. This will deal with some of the major issues that lead to crime and to people needing to access the justice system.

Some of the $4.6 billion annually that is wasted by government on paying interest on its borrowings from commercial banks, when it could fund that borrowing from its own central bank (the Reserve Bank) without interest, would pay for more resources for the justice system, greater use of alternative disputes resolution options, and support for victims.

2. What are your party’s policies and plans in relation to access to justice, unmet legal needs and legal aid?

Vision New Zealand

We believe there needs to be more support for the defendants who find themselves in the hands of the judicial system, these people are still innocent until proven guilty. They should be supported and walked throughout the process, that by nature can be lengthy, and dismissive of the strain and tension experienced by the defendant and his or her family. This in itself creates barriers and an overarching impression that justice is only for the supposed victim.

The Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

The Green Party would reform and properly fund the legal aid system to provide fair, high-quality legal services for all and ensure a strong, independent bar. We would also properly fund social support to those who have caused and experienced harm, better resource community law centres, and make applications for protection and parenting orders free.

New Zealand Labour Party

Access to justice is a long-term issue and there are multiple challenges that will take time to resolve. Labour will continue to make improvements so everyone has appropriate access to justice, including through legal aid and Community Law Centres.

Our actions to date include:

  1. Lifted the judicial cap and appointed 12 new Judges and staff to help address Court backlogs along with a number of temporary Judges to help address the Covid backlog.
  2. Increased funding for Community Law Centres at each and every Budget since we came to Office – their first increases in seven years.
  3. Improving access to justice through establishing the Criminal Cases Review Commission to review convictions and sentences and decide whether to refer them to the Appeal Court.

We will continue to review legal aid as well as other measures to ensure New Zealanders can resolve their legal disputes fairly.

The New Zealand National Party

Access to, and quality of service and delivery of justice will be a key priority for National. Justice today is out of reach for most New Zealanders and this is in itself is grievous. In legal aid we will ensure sustainability and accessibility with proper funding.

ACT New Zealand

Every person deserves the right to legal representation and have available to them access to it. The avenues for that access should be easy with an open door policy for those requiring help. We acknowledge that legal aid is an important necessity, however the continuing bureaucracy around lawyers receiving legal aid on behalf of their clients can be difficult to navigate.

The New Zealand Democratic Party for Social Credit

While we view access to decent representation in court as a right regardless of circumstances, our aim is to reduce the number of people in the court system, particularly those needing legal aid. Our approach to that is covered briefly in our answer to question 1. Meantime we would raise the income threshold for access to legal aid to $35,000 with corresponding increases to other levels. Fixed fees for lawyers undertaking legal aid work will be reviewed.

Those charged with a crime or those needing issues resolved in a court should be able to have their cases dealt with promptly. If greater funding is required to achieve that, our economic policy would ensure the funds were made available as a portion of the $20 billion additional government funding we plan to make available each year.

The Opportunities Party (TOP)

The quality of legal representation for any defendant should not be determined by their financial means. Nevertheless, rich defendants do have access to better representation on the basis that they can buy more time spent on their case. The funding model for the Public Defence Service (PDS), means staff are overstretched in terms of their case load and the number of hours they have available to represent any given client. The expectations on PDS lawyers to manage upwards of 60-70 files at a time is not reasonable, and must be addressed.

TOP will also review the way in which legal aid is costed and attributed. We must ensure that the way in which lawyers are paid by legal aid is not impacted upon by decisions a defendant makes as to the way in which their case progresses. There should be no financial incentive for defence lawyers based on their client electing trial by jury or not. We must ensure defendants are receiving truly independent advice.

Māori Party

Review the legal aid process to ensure timely, high quality, professional legal advice.

New Zealand First Party

Too many people are priced out of the legal system. Financial barriers to the legal system must be reduced which is why we fought for increased funding for Community Law Centres. We can continue to ensure that Community Law Centres are properly resources while also:

  • More use of alternative dispute resolution processes, especially mediation and arbitration as a right.
  • Providing litigants with improved means of reviewing the fees charged by lawyers and other providers.
  • Providing litigants with better means of avoiding delays such as the use of default procedures.

Part of reducing costs is to streamline the process to determine who should receive legal aid and the quantum of it. New Zealand First supports the use of more discretionary decision-making which uses the ‘prospects of success’ considerations and use of expert analysis involving direct consultation with the applicant’s lawyer.

NZ Outdoors Party

To promote a fair, just system that serves the public rather than itself.

We will endeavour to create a peoples’ constitution underpinned by our fundamental freedoms, human rights and the Bill of Rights.

We promote restorative justice that supports victims and families of those facing imprisonment and gives more opportunities and better treatment to prisoners that promote positive rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community, ensuring sentencing of crime is proportionate to any harm caused, first.

Legislation must support our objectives, therefore any laws that create barriers preventing this, we aim to scrutinise, amend or repeal.

New Conservative

As a new party when we enter parliament, whether alone, as a coalition government, or outside government merely providing confidence and supply, we will work to ensure it does justice and seeks to prevent the constantly increasing volume of crime.

We want to determine what is working and what is not, conducting real consultation, speaking and actually taking account of input from those involved in the sector with their wide range of experiences to understand where the roadblocks and opportunities lie.

There have been massive changes in the last two decades in criminal law, the Evidence Act, Bail Acts, etcetera, and a review of their efficiency and effect is important. We will review these to ensure justice and fairness apply, not ideology, whether in the Family, Civil or Criminal Courts.

ONE Party

ONE Party supports a system of justice that would be available for all NZ citizens, with a legal aid fund that would provide for those unable to meet their obligations or afford appropriate legal representation.

We will work with key stakeholders to improve the rehabilitation for offenders.

We will increase funding and support for all community law centres.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party

Our policy to take cannabis out of the justice system will enable more legal aid to be provided in other areas. The New Zealand Institute of Economic Research shows that $200 million per annum will be saved from police and courts expenditure. (Press Wed 29 July). We advocate for the expungement of cannabis convictions.

3. How would your party improve the courts and court processes?

The Green Party of Aotearoa/New Zealand

The Green Party will prioritise passing the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill to reduce the retraumatisation survivors of sexual violence may experience when they attend court and give evidence. We would appoint more judges to support a more diverse bench and to reduce workload and wait times in the court system.

The Green Party would expand well-performing specialist courts like the Rangatahi and Pasifika Courts for young people throughout Aotearoa, so justice doesn’t depend on where someone lives. We would also create an independent Victims Commissioner to give a formal voice to victims in the justice system, and ensure support services are resourced to provide specialised support for victims of intimate partner violence and sexual violence.

The New Zealand Democratic Party for Social Credit

We will seek ways to improve the courts system and its processes, including adopting an accelerated programme of technology implementation where possible, and reducing the number of people needing to access the court system. For example, we view the rise in family violence as a reaction to a society under stress, especially financial stress. Our economic policy seeks to address many of the reasons people find themselves in court.

We would set up extensive education programmes on things like citizenship, avoiding substance abuse, road safety and driver training, and crime prevention, to provide people with the tools they need to keep them out of court. That would go a long way to reducing court workloads and thereby improving court processes.

ONE Party

ONE Party will seek a complete review of the courts and court processes, to streamline and ensure efficiencies across all levels.

We will provide independent educational and informational hubs within the court rooms for people to access.

The New Zealand National Party

A significant focus for me in courts reform will be on accessibility and cost, says Simon Bridges, National’s Justice spokesperson.

Processes and procedure must be streamlined, efficient, and effective so justice is in the grasp of more everyday Kiwis. In particular, we’re looking at encouraging more dispute resolution outside the traditional court context (especially alternative dispute resolution practices), better use of resources (for example courts sitting outside normal weekday working hours) and innovating with technology (for example, AVL and online court systems) to the maximum extent possible without restricting fair trial rights.

New Zealand Labour Party

We have already taken action on multiple fronts, in our first term in office, and will continue to take steps to ensure less offending, less re-offending, and there being fewer and better supported victims of crime.

We’ve taken action to reduce Court backlogs and improve access to justice by increasing funding for District Courts, appointing more judges, and amending technical legislation to improve access to justice.

We’ve started the reform of the Family Courts to support families under pressure.

We are supporting initiatives that address Māori over-representation in the justice system. The Rangatahi Courts involve marae and communities in legal cases, to help young Māori and their whanau engage effectively with the justice system and reduce re-offending.

We’ve expanded the number of therapeutic courts.

We’ve introduced the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill, which will help ensure survivors are not re-victimised by the Court process as well as making strangulation an offence.

We launched the Canterbury Earthquakes Insurance Tribunal to provide a fair, flexible and cost-effective way for homeowners to resolve outstanding claims.

Aotearoa Legalise Cannabis Party

By ending prohibition the courts, probation and police will have more time for real crime which is a societal benefit of $86 million per annum (Press 29 July).

New Zealand First Party

Support modernisation efforts to reduce the time to resolve matters, increase efficiency and reduce hearing time. Better process improvements such as greater use of online documentation and technology to reduce the amount of court hearing time.

Carry on with the success of hearings and remand appearances by video conferencing and AV links.

Support efforts to invest in our IT systems to modernise courts and court processes.

Vision New Zealand

We believe the system needs to be unencumbered by:

  • the establishment of a judicial training programme, with new and clear protocols that has the objective to fast track cases in a timely and seamless process; and
  • the retaining of judges to use their discretion and think on their feet, thereby investing in their wisdom and experience.

Māori Party

Amending racist laws, legal and policing processes that have the net effect of incarcerating Māori.

ACT New Zealand

Addressing the large volume of people coming through the justice system and the strain that is put on that system as a result needs to happen. Repeat offending is an issue that ACT believes can be addressed for more positive outcomes. Incentivising prisoners to rehabilitate by completing educational programmes, empowering them to take control of their own lives, appreciating their freedoms and equipping them to lead productive lives will help improve the processes around the Court system. This means reducing some of the administrative barriers that prevent groups like the Howard League from helping to educate and rehabilitate prisoners.

New Conservative

We would like to see the system sped up through night courts or other avenues so that justice is prompt and not drawn out.

In the last 10 years or so the numbers imprisoned have tripled, and a third of those in custody are on remand awaiting their case to be heard or finalised. The Manukau Court which is the busiest and biggest in NZ, has seldom been busier. A major factor is the underfunding of courts. There is a huge backlog in hearings at Manukau Court. Matters are commonly waiting for a year or more to reach judge alone trials, or sentencings, and Jury trials are even more drawn out. Even a recent judicial blitz with judges brought in to deal with the hundreds of backlogged cases has not completely solved it, (especially with Covid-19). Our job will not be to blame prosecution, or the court, or lawyers, but to efficiently resource and train the court and stakeholders.

The Opportunities Party (TOP)

TOP supports the development of alternative courts that have a specific focus on the drivers of those crimes, whether it is the Drug and Alcohol courts, Family Violence or the newer Mental Health Court. In particular, it is positive to see the trial in Porirua get underway, in respect of dealing with young offenders who are 18-24, to recognise the high percentage of young offenders who suffer from learning disabilities, brain injuries or foetal-alcohol disorder. TOP would look to increase the age for Youth Court to 20 years old, to better reflect the level of neurological development for young offenders.

TOP supports the Sexual Violence Legislation Bill. The Court process is particularly stressful for complainants, especially those of sexual offending, and we must do more to support them, and reduce the re-traumatisation of complainants sharing their stories. It is also the obligation of the Court to ensure that a defendant receives a fair trial, from the beginning to the end of the process. We consider that the Bill does appropriately uphold the inherent discretion Judges have in every criminal trial to make decisions that uphold those fair trial rights, and make decisions that the interests of justice require. TOP would therefore support this Bill passing if in Parliament.

NZ Outdoors Party

  1. By promoting public access to information about processes, criteria, data and responsibilities regarding court and law, along with a better staff communication system that supports getting through cases more quickly, whilst making the whole process easier to navigate for everyone.
  2. By supporting appointment of judges by a commission, independent from government, promoting separation of powers to avoid any corruption that could cause deficiencies within the court, ongoing time delays and inefficient resource use. We also support community courts providing a readily accessible community forum for communities to hold the executive to account and to ensure executive decisions have social licence.
  3. Regarding the Family Court, we will promote a mediation approach wherever there is no obvious criminality involved within family disputes, allowing more time and resources for other court hearings. We support the ethos that families, especially children, do not belong in these institutions because of the unnecessary psychological and sometimes physical consequences that often occur and wherever possible, avoidance is imperative.
  4. If our key objectives are met which encourage a thriving community, emphasising localism and focusing on the needs of especially our children, there will be less criminality, causing some of the inefficiencies of the courts to naturally recede.
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