New Zealand's adoption, three strikes laws 'dreadful' - former Judge

A former New Zealand District Court Judge has described the controversial three strikes law as "dreadful", explaining how she saw people imprisoned for relatively minor crimes.  

Rosemary Riddell sat on the bench at the Hamilton District Court for 12 years - starting law late after studying in her 40s before becoming a Judge 14 years later.

Now retired in central Otago, she's written the book To Be Fair: Confessions of a District Court Judge about everything she once wasn't allowed to say.

Appearing on The Project on Thursday to discuss her time as a Judge, Riddell was asked whether she ever had to enforce laws she didn't believe in. 

The three-strikes law - introduced by the previous National Government more than a decade ago - was one of them. The previous Government planned to repeal it but Coalition partner NZ First wouldn't support it. 

"Three strikes law. I think it is a dreadful law," Riddell said. "[The] first strike; you get sentenced, you get a warning. Second strike; you serve whatever the Judge imposes - no time off for good behaviour.

"Third strike; you serve the maximum whatever that sentence carries with it… I tell the story in the book of a young man, Daniel, and he's still in prison for what was a relatively minor crime but it was his third strike."

Another law Riddell said she doesn't agree with - one that hasn't been updated since the 1950s - is the Adoption Act. 

"As a Judge, you've got to just impose the penalty and say naught," she said.

On the three strikes law, the newly-elected Labour Government has renewed its vows to repeal it. It has a better chance of doing it now - given it's governing alone. 

Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern, meanwhile, has previously said New Zealand's adoption law needs a review.

"The Adoption Act is well over 50 years old and definitely needs fixing," she said on Instagram. "It's on our work programme!"