Election 2023: National promises tougher sentences, but lawyer, retired judge sceptical

The National Party is promising to get tougher on criminal sentences if it gets into power. 

Currently judges can use their discretion and reduce sentences for mitigating factors, but National wants to limit those cuts to 40 percent of the recommended sentence.

It would also bring back a version of the three strikes law and it would scrap cultural reports which review the offender's history and what may have led to their offending.

Those reports cost about $20 million over four years and National would instead funnel that money towards victims.

National has held its conference over the week, with leader Christopher Luxon giving a speech to rapturous applause. 

"Labour will give you excuses, National will give you results," he told the rank and file.

But there was one quick little excuse from Luxon.

On Saturday, he said in a promo video that he's loved the Crusaders since he was a "little boy".

But the team didn't exist until he was 26.

"Anyone who comes from that part of the world knows exactly what we're talking about. The Crusaders, Canterbury Crusaders, Canterbury, they're all my team," he said on Sunday.

Luxon's hoping his team will score a win at the election.

Sunday's drive forward was a pitch to limit how much judges could reduce sentences for mitigating circumstances.

"National will restore real consequences for crime with stronger sentences for convicted criminals," Luxon said. 

But defence lawyer John Munro said an increase in a sentence doesn't naturally flow to a decrease in crime. 

"In fact quite the opposite, it can increase crime, especially for young people and youths going into a prison system."

National would also extend rehab to everyone in prison, including those on remand awaiting trial or sentencing.

"With nearly one in two prisoners being on remand, that means a significant proportion of prisoners are missing out on the opportunity for proper rehabilitation," said Luxon. 

With the conference wrapped, the base is leaving happy with the policy for tougher sentences.

But not so much with some in the judiciary. Newshub spoke to a retired judge who said National doesn't trust those handing down sentences and even said the policy to limit sentencing discretion as akin to putting judges in a straight jacket.

But Luxon said National does trust judges.

"We do but we are just making sure we find the balance to be able to give them the amount of discretion they need... But equally, we need to make sure the public can see there are fair sentences that are appropriate to the crimes that are committed."

Labour's justice spokesperson Kiri Allan believes National's policy is an "egregious overreach". 

"There's a big reason for why there's so much discretion held by the judiciary. They see far more than you and I will ever see and that's essentially part of the trust we have to have in the judicial system."

Labour says it's also egregious National doesn't know how much it costs a year to keep someone in prison and has no idea how much it will cost to have more prisoners locked up for longer.

"We'll be able to answer all those questions when [Luxon's] the Prime Minister, when we're in Government," said National's corrections spokesperson Mark Mitchell. 

National is grabbing at every vote it can to make that happen.