Andrew Little calls for change to discharge without conviction law

Andrew Little
Andrew Little

The Labour Party is calling for a review of the Sentencing Act after recent "discharges without conviction" sparked a public outcry.

Labour leader Andrew Little says judges should no longer consider the impact a conviction would have on violent offenders, and should instead "reflect community expectations" in their sentencing.

Mr Little says he is aiming to bring the Sentencing Act up in Parliament's question time next week, and if that doesn't gain any traction, he will look at a Private Member's Bill. 

That's something that would come down to "luck of the draw" and wouldn't be a possibility until next year.

Mr Little's calls for Parliament to review the Sentencing Act follow a "succession of cases" where people were discharged without conviction for violent offences:

Mr Little says people have been left "scratching their heads" by the judges' decisions to not hand down convictions.

The Sentencing Act 2002 states that "the court must not discharge an offender without conviction unless the court is satisfied that the direct and indirect consequences of a conviction would be out of all proportion to the gravity of the offence".

That means the law currently allows judges to discharge if they believe the conviction outweighs the offence, even if the offence is serious, which Mr Little is not pleased about.

"When there's violence involved, when there's a weapon involved, when you're attacking a police officer or another frontline person like that, it doesn't make sense that you then get off scot-free," he told Paul Henry.

Mr Little said he feels that the law, which is supposed to encourage heavier sentences for "aggravating features", has not been heeded by a number of judges.

"To see someone committing an offence involving those features and getting off with a discharge without conviction - that doesn't seem right," he said.

It's not clear that the judges are properly taking into account the aggravating features part of the law.

"District Court judges are sentencing dozens of people in a day, they're doing hundreds a month, and I think mostly they get it right - but sometimes they get it wrong, and very occasionally, they get it spectacularly wrong."

However, Mr Little said judges are just applying the law Parliament has given them: "So I think that's where politicians need to take a bit of responsibility and, if we see repeatedly the law not being applied in the way that we expect, we've got to change the law."

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