National MP Tom Rutherford lodges 'no body, no parole' Bill to Parliament

A National MP says he wants to put victims at the centre of New Zealand's justice system by introducing a 'no body, no parole' law.

Bay of Plenty MP Tom Rutherford has lodged a Members' Bill called 'The Concealment of Location of Victim Remains Bill' which would stop convicted murderers who refuse to disclose the location of their victim's body from becoming eligible for parole.

"Ultimately, my Bill is all about putting victims of crime at the heart of our justice system," Rutherford told Newshub.

"It acknowledges the anguish faced by families who do not get the chance to lay their loved ones to rest."

The brother of Christchurch builder Michael McGrath, who was murdered by his childhood friend David Benbow in 2017, has been calling for the law to be introduced.

Benbow was sentenced to life with a minimum non-parole period of 17 years in April for the murder. However, despite extensive police searches, Michael's body has never been found.

"Given the magnitude of such crimes, concealment of a body is enough to warrant such a law being introduced and it would give families a proper farewell," Simon McGrath told Newshub in April.

"At the very least, a family would know that a killer is not going to get out of prison unless they cooperate."

It was particularly his contact with Simon, that encouraged Former National MP Tim Macindoe to lodge a Private Members Bill back in 2020, however, it never got picked from the ballot.

Rutherford said he looked at Macindoe's Bill and updated it based on legislation since passed in the UK and the Australian state of New South Wales.

The Prisoners (Disclosure of Information About Victims) Act, dubbed 'Helen's Law', came into force in the UK in 2021. 

The law was championed by Marie McCourt whose 22-year-old daughter Helen was murdered by Ian Simms in 1988. Simms was freed despite not disclosing the location of McCourt's body. He died in 2022.

Marie spent five years calling for the legislation which made it a legal requirement for the parole board to take into account a murderer's failure to disclose the location of their victim's remains when considering them for release.

Similarly, New South Wales became the fifth state in Australia to introduce the legislation dubbed 'Lyn's law' after former Sydney teacher Chris Dawson was convicted in 2022 of murdering his 33-year-old wife Lynette Dawson. Lynette's body has never been found.

Bay of Plenty MP Tom Rutherford with the Bill.
Bay of Plenty MP Tom Rutherford with the Bill. Photo credit: Supplied

Rutherford said the Bill has been modelled on overseas legislation and would strengthen New Zealand's parole laws to require the Parole Board to consider a prisoner's refusal to reveal the location of their victim's body.

"Having these types of laws ensures people like Chris [Dawson] never become eligible for parole unless they disclose the location of their victim," he said.

Critics of the law have said such legislation could be "disastrous" for those who have been wrongly convicted as they would be unable to provide information to investigators on the body's location.

Rutherford said this is always going to be an element people will raise with the legislation.

"What I would say to that is we have a judicial process in New Zealand where if someone believes they're innocent they have the ability to appeal their conviction," Rutherford said.

Rutherford said in cases where the victim's remains may not be able to be uncovered, for example being lost at sea, the parole board must be satisfied the offender has done everything they can to assist in finding the person's body.

"It denies offenders the opportunity to return to society if they do not give their victim's family and friends the opportunity to be reunited with their loved ones," Rutherford said. 

"We must have a justice system that puts the victims at the heart of all the work we do."

He said he would continue to work with the Minister of Justice on the Bill.

"I'll be doing everything I can to get the Bill before the House but at the moment it's in the biscuit tin and I'm hopeful it gets drawn as soon as possible."

If his Bill passes, it will go through a select committee where the public, organisations and MPs can make submissions on it.