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NZPA president Chris Cahill

President's Column: Member concern over sentencing discounts

Thank you to members and your families for once again stepping up to face this current Covid threat which, for police, is impossible to avoid.

Thank you to members and your families for once again stepping up to face this current Covid threat which, for police, is impossible to avoid.

Securing your vaccine protection has been unnecessarily difficult, but is finally under way in earnest.

Policing work never stops, the dangers never stop and communities across New Zealand are rightly proud of the professionalism of officers and Police employees who get on with the job, even in the most adverse of conditions.

This year we have highlighted some heavy issues, including mental health challenges, mounting gang violence and the ever-increasing proliferation of firearms. Unfortunately, these and other challenges will remain on overloaded job sheets.

Given that, I’d like to take a pulse check on what happens when officers do their job, arrest offenders and hand them over to the courts for what we perhaps too flippantly term “justice to be served”.

Members are increasingly telling me they are less than impressed with many sentencing decisions, which they see as having an end goal of making sure the convicted offender either avoids jail or spends very little time inside.

Take these examples: nine months’ home detention for shooting and permanently disfiguring a member of the public; nine months’ imprisonment for illegal possession of 22 semi-automatic firearms.

Yes, every defendant is unique and deserves justice, every case has particular circumstances, and every judge has considerable discretion to tailor an appropriate sentence to hold an offender to account for harm done.

However, a sentence should also have an aspect of deterrence to others.

Consideration of discounts on sentences are an established part of the process and can be for guilty pleas, remorse, drug rehabilitation, reintegration and cultural reports which, unlike probation reports, delve into details such as the link between deprivation and offending. They play an increasing role in sentencing. Between 2019 and 2020 the number of cultural reports reportedly jumped from 346 to 1557.

With the firearms’ offending cited above, you’d be forgiven for asking what was the objective of the Government’s major firearms legislation efforts specifically aimed at cracking down on the use and possession of illegal firearms, and where was the responsibility to the community and victims?

Police are doing their bit with initiatives such as Operation Tauwhiro, establishment of firearms investigation teams and arresting dangerous offenders with huge numbers of illegal firearms.

Neither Police nor politicians can interfere in the work of the courts, such is the separation of powers in our democracy. That should be protected at all costs, but surely it does not prevent some alignment between Legislature, Executive and Judiciary when considering a response to significant problems in society?

The sentencing notes I have read lately have a clear emphasis on the offender’s situation and limited comment on victims or the wider context of violent offending throughout our society. Members clearly feel that addressing this warrants cooperation from all three branches of government.

From the President.

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