Andrew Little kicks off 'real change' to the justice system

Justice Minister Andrew Little and former National Party minister Chester Borrows at Parliament on Thursday.
Justice Minister Andrew Little and former National Party minister Chester Borrows at Parliament on Thursday. Photo credit: Anna Bracewell-Worrall/Newshub.

Justice Minister Andrew Little has started the process of reform to New Zealand's criminal justice system - a working group and a summit.

It's about "having the guts to look honestly at our slide towards an American-style justice system", Mr Little said at the announcement on Thursday.

An advisory group, the Safe and Effective Justice Programme Advisory Group – Te Uepū Hāpai i te Ora, will work with justice sector agencies on "a prudent and realistic scope" of change to the criminal justice system.

The issue of crime and justice is setting up to be a major political battleground. The group has already been labelled a PR exercise by the Opposition. 

"It looks like the Government is just going to make it easier for criminals to get out of prison and harder for them to get there in the first place,"  the National Party justice spokesperson Mark Mitchell said.

The group will be chaired by former National Party minister Chester Borrows and will include victims' advocate Ruth Money, as well as Julia Whaipooti, Dr Warren Young, Professor Tony Ward, Professor Tracey McIntosh, Dr Carwyn Jones and Dr Jarrod Gilbert.

Andrew Little with the working group.
Andrew Little with the working group. Photo credit: Anna Bracewell-Worrall/Newshub.

Mr Borrows said there's been too much reactive politics around crime.

"If you do start talking smart on crime thats code for soft on crime," he lamented.

He said one quarter of people born in 1978 have a conviction.

"People with convictions are all over the place. They are related to you and me... They are not some subset of society."

A two-day summit will be held August 20 to August 22, first at Parliament and then in Porirua.

"New Zealand needs less offending, less re-offending, and fewer victims of crime. We can't continue to have one of the highest re-offending rates in the OECD," Mr Little said.

But any "real change" will be a challenge for the Government. To make any change to law, it'll need the support of New Zealand First, which is traditionally tough on crime.

The party already stymied Mr Little's hopes for scrapping the Three Strikes law ahead of the summit. "Three Strikes remain" is identified as an "important issue" on NZ First's website - indicating how significant it is to the party's core.

Mr Little insisted NZ First is "on board" with reform to the criminal justice system.

"They are open to ideas… They want to see something smarter than what we've got at the moment," the minister said.

He said there may well be changes to the bail, parole and sentencing acts, but other changes - such as rehabilitation within prisons - won't require legislative change.

The group will report back to the minister in early 2019.