Three strikes policy to return with changes

File photo
File photo
The coalition plans to reintroduce the three strikes sentencing law later this year - but it will be slightly different.

It would apply only to sentences of at least two years, give judges more discretion in cases where harsh outcomes would be "manifestly unjust", and bring in some benefit for offenders on their final strike to plead guilty.

The system would also add the new strangulation and suffocation offence to the list of 40 serious offences that qualified under the previous scheme, and demand an "appropriately lengthy" non-parole period for those convicted of murder at their second or third strike.

The "three strikes" law was a three-stage system of increasing consequences for repeat serious violent offenders first introduced by National and Act New Zealand in 2010, with three qualifying offences meaning judges would be required to hand down the maximum sentence for .

However, it was repealed by the previous Labour government in 2022, with Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori arguing it prevented judges from taking individual circumstances into account, that mandatory minimum sentences disproportionately affected Māori, and did not address underlying causes of crime.

Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee said the proposed settings of the bill had already been approved by Cabinet, and she would introduce a bill to the House later this year after taking that to Cabinet by the end of June.

The law would then take effect six months after it had passed through Parliament, to allow changes to IT systems and training.

She said the change to only apply the law for sentences of 24 months or more, and increase judicial discretion, would limit the effect of the law to those who had committed the most serious offences.

"The intention is to limit the new three-strikes regime to serious repeat offenders without capturing the low-level offending. We intend to provide narrow exceptions to allow judicial discretion not to impose the mandatory sentence or parole requirements when it would be manifestly unjust to do so."

She was confident the changes had addressed many of the issues with the Bill of Rights the previous law faced, and she was hopeful Attorney-General Judith Collins' advice would reflect that once the bill had been introduced to Parliament.

Christopher Luxon has admitted he was holidaying in Hawaii last week despite his social media...
Prime Minister Chistopher Luxon. Photo: RNZ

She announced the move alongside Prime Minister Chistopher Luxon. They said it could lead to about 45 to 90 extra prisoners every year over the next 10 years, costing up to an extra $11 million.

"It's hard to estimate because we are changing and improving the regime, so that's the best estimates that we can give," McKee said.

Luxon said criminals "need to know that their actions will not be tolerated by this government, and we are determined to keep our community safe".

However, when asked what advice he had seen the law would actually reduce violent crime, he referred repeatedly instead to previous examples where similar laws had been brought in.

"Well, again, what we've seen is we know that actually we've got to be tough on crime," he said. "We know that we have to send a message very clearly.

"We've seen different pieces of advice, there's been advice from previous examples where we've had it before, and likewise we've seen examples from overseas jurisdictions like California."

"I am telling you the advice is the counterfactual - which is what we've seen happen over the last six years. Violent crime's gone up over 30 percent, year in, year out, gotta stop," he said.

When the law was repealed two years ago, National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith - now the minister - argued against Labour's claim that violent crime had increased in the 10 years since it had been brought in, saying that was "the weakest argument I've ever heard a Minister of Justice come up with".

"It probably didn't occur to her that there might be one or two other factors involved in the increase in violent crime in the last few years," he said at the time.

Luxon also responded to the criticism of the previous bill that it disproportionately affected Māori and Pacific Islanders, saying Māori were also more likely to be the victims of crime.

"Our goal here is to incarcerate violent offenders, violent sexual offenders. I don't care whether they're Māori or non-Māori, they're coming off our streets because they cause pain and suffering to regular New Zealanders," he said.

"If this piece of legislation actually saves one person from the pain and suffering caused by violent, sexual activity, violent sexual criminal activity, then that's a good thing ... that is well worth it, and I make no apologies about it."