The full text of the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill can be found here. It is currently before the law and order select committee.
The Bill proposes to introduce a mandatory 25 year jail sentence for criminals after their third serious offence. The Bill has been roundly criticised by most groups involved in the criminal justice system.
The Law Society's main objections to the Bill appear to be:
- an offender with two serious offences has nothing to lose by killing witnesses to the third offence
- the decision on what sentence an offender got would in some cases be taken out of the hands of judges and instead given to the police, who would decide what offence the person was to be charged with
- offenders on their third strike would have no incentive to plead guilty, so this might clog the courts
- the extension of preventative detention in 2002 has given judges more power to impose longer sentences
- the Bill permits judges not to impose a life sentence where it would be manifestly unjust to do so, but this sets the bar too high.
So is this the end of the Bill? Given that National has expressed some reservations and that most opposition parties are against it, you would expect so.
Even if lawmakers could accept the principle that after three serious offences you're a goner, getting them to agree on what those offences should be would be next to impossible. If you scan through the offences listed at section 86A you'll see that most of them are serious violent or sexual offences. But then you see listed the offence of compelling an indecent act with an animal.
Now I'm an animal lover (no, not that kind!), but, really, does someone who's been amorous with a sheep on a lonely rural night really deserve to have a strike offence against their name?
ACT MP David Garrett's Bill will protect our precious sheep
[Update 10/5/09 - as has been pointed out on The Standard, the offence of compelling an indecent act with an animal involves someone compelling someone else to do the nasty. Which is probably a bit more serious than it first sounded. And probably (at least I hope) one of those never-used provisions of the Crimes Act 1961. The other objections raised by the Law Society, however, are serious ones]
More importantly, ACT and the Serious Sentencing Trust have failed to establish that the proposed law would make any positive difference at all.
This Bill is a dead duck. If it survives to become law it will be so watered down as to be utterly ineffective, even if we accept it could ever have had any positive effect to begin with.