With NZ First out of the picture, Labour finally moves on 'three strikes' law repeal

With its former coalition partner NZ First out of the picture, Labour is finally repealing the 'three strikes' law after committing to do so four years ago. 

The three strikes law, which came into force under National and ACT in 2010, means third-time serious offenders get the maximum sentence with no chance of parole.

Former Justice Minister Andrew Little was forced to backtrack on plans to repeal three strikes in 2018 after Labour's then-coalition partner NZ First indicated it wouldn't support it. 

With its majority in Parliament following the 2020 election, Labour doesn't need consensus, so it's finally moving ahead with repealing the law, which Little committed to in 2017 when Labour came to power. 

Kris Faafoi, the current Justice Minister, announced on Thursday the Government will introduce the Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill to kick-start the process. 

The law change will not be retrospective. The Government has agreed that people who are already sentenced under the three strikes regime serve their sentence as originally imposed.

But Cabinet has agreed to invite a parliamentary select committee to consider whether the legislation should include provisions for those who have already been sentenced under three strikes. 

"The three strikes regime is an anomaly in New Zealand's justice system that dictates what sentences judges must hand down irrespective of relevant factors," Faafoi said. 

"It has led to some absurd outcomes. In one case, for example, a person was sentenced to 10 years imprisonment for an offence for which the sentencing judge indicated that they would, ordinarily, have imposed 18 months in prison.

"We have even seen the situation, recently, where the Supreme Court had to intervene in the case of an individual with long-standing and serious mental illness to correct what the court said was so disproportionately severe that it breached the Bill of Rights.

"Those who backed the law argued it would improve public safety - it has not. The evidence remains overwhelming that there has been no effect on violent crime rates since its implementation in 2010.

"Other jurisdictions have also repealed their own versions of three strike provisions, including the Northern Territory, and California repealed aspects of its three strikes law in 2012."

Faafoi said judges will continue to be able to impose severe sentences on serious offenders.

ACT has already launched a petition against the repeal. 

"Three Strikes was an ACT idea introduced in 2010 to send a signal to violent offenders that New Zealanders won't tolerate repeated violent and sexual offending. The average three strikes offender has 74 convictions," says justice spokesperson Nicole McKee. 

"Just 18 people have been sentenced to a third strike. The total number of people sentenced to a first, second or third strike account for just 1 percent of the people sentenced in our courts.

"This is the worst of the worst. These offenders leave behind a long list of victims, some who will never fully recover from the trauma. For every offence carried out, there is a victim. Labour seems to have forgotten that."

National MP Simon Bridges said Labour is soft on crime. 

"With increasing violent offending and the highest levels of firearms violence in more than a decade, Labour is doubling down on its soft-on-crime approach with the repeal of the three strikes law. This will put public safety at risk." 

The Greens are on board. 

"The three strikes law has led to grossly unfair results that disproportionately impacted Māori, including much harsher sentences than would otherwise have been imposed," says justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman. 

"We call on Labour to follow this positive announcement by implementing a sentencing review process for those who have been affected by the three strikes law.

"Anyone who has received a maximum penalty should be given a new sentence which is proportionate to the crime committed and offers opportunity for rehabilitation."