Penalty paradox in proposed law

The maximum penalty for possessing a book about growing marijuana will be higher than that for actually growing the drug, the Law Society has told MPs considering a hard-hitting new bill.

A Parliamentary Committee is hearing submissions on a law change which would increase the penalties for possessing, importing, exporting or making objectionable publications.

It was targeted at child pornography on the internet but submitters told the select committee this morning that it would capture a broad range of images or publications.

Law Society law reform committee member Graeme Edgeler said that a book which instructs someone on how to grow marijuana was encouraging a crime and would be considered objectionable.

"If this increasing sentence goes forward, the maximum penalty for possessing that book will go up to 10 years' imprisonment, whereas the maximum penalty for running a growing operation is eight years' imprisonment."

The maximum penalty for possessing images of bestiality would also be increased to the same maximum penalty as committing bestiality.

Mr Edgeler said that if child exploitation was the target of the bill, Parliament could consider whether there should be separate child pornography sentences.

He pointed to the scale of sentences for theft, in which there was a maximum sentence of three months in jail for stealing $500, a year's imprisonment for stealing up to $1000, and up to seven years for stealing more than $1000.

Committee members said it was more difficult to create a graduated scale for objectionable images because it was a more subjective offence than theft.

MPs also said that the discretion for penalties could be left to a judge.

The Law Society did not hold a position on whether the penalties were appropriate, but said Parliament should question whether raising the maximum penalties for all objectionable publications would achieve the goals of the law change.

Other submitters said that tougher sanctions needed to be accompanied by vigorous education campaigns, and that "naive teenagers" who posted images on social media should not face the same penalties as hardened adult criminals.

The Objectionable Publications and Indecency Legislation Bill would raise the maximum sentence for possessing, importing or exporting objectionable publications from five years to ten years.

The maximum penalty for supplying, distributing or creating offensive images would increase from 10 years to 14 years.

The bill would make it clear that possession of offensive images included intentionally viewing them, not just consciously downloading or saving them.

It would create a new offence of indecent communication with a person under the age of 16, and provide a presumption of imprisonment for repeat child sex abuse offenders.

- By Isaac Davison of the New Zealand Herald

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