Once again National and Labour have succumbed to the “law and order” brigade enabling the passage of a Bill imprisoning people for crimes they might commit in the future.
The Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill allows the Court to further imprison people who have finished their sentences because of an assessed risk of serious sexual or violent reoffending.
In a legal sense this goes beyond what we already what we already have for murderers and serious sex offenders who can be sentenced to life imprisonment or preventative detention. These prisoners know when they are first sentenced that whether they get out is dependent on their behavior in prison, or on release.
But the Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill goes into new and difficult territory by in effect punishing a prisoner a second time when they didn’t qualify for life imprisonment or preventative detention at their first trial. The government, in its Regulatory Impact Statement on the Bill, admitted that this offended our Bill of Rights, by allowing for double jeopardy (in effect being punished a second time for the same offence) and having characteristics of arbitrary detention.
As was pointed out in submissions critical of the Bill, if a prisoner has mental problems which make him or her seriously dangerous there are provisions in the Mental Health Act and the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act to keep them in some form of detention.
Since 2004, there have also been “Extended Supervision Orders” imposing conditions and monitoring on some released offenders, commonly sex offenders, after their sentence (including the parole period) has ended. These Supervision Orders can apply for up to 10 years, but under an amendment bill also passed through Parliament last week such Orders can now be renewed indefinitely.
Like the Public Protection Orders these post-sentence Supervision Orders also present problems of double jeopardy – although of course a prisoner would rather be out on Supervision Order than kept in detention under one of the new Public Protection Orders.
In its submission opposing the latest Bill, the Law Society noted that “The Attorney-General’s report under s[ection] 7 of the Bill of Rights Act is the third such report finding the ESO [Extended Supervision Orders] regime to limit the fundamental rights and freedoms to an extent that is not justified in a free and democratic society.”
These two Bills are part of a creeping erosion of our rights in the justice system. Even as our crime rate drops, more and more former criminals will be monitored after their sentence is completed, or locked up for a further term, simply because they are judged likely to reoffend.
On the practical level these new provisions are a step backwards. It takes emphasis away from the rehabilitation of prisoners, which is currently seriously under-resourced. Prison official who haven’t put in the rehabilitation effort needed (or haven’t had the resources) will simply argue that, “Prisoner X hasn’t yet been properly rehabilitated and may commit another crime, so we recommend he be locked up for another term.” For his or her part, Prisoner X might have been thinking, “why should I throw myself into rehabilitation if could all be for nothing and they keep me in detention under a Public Protection Order after I finish my sentence.” This would apply particularly to prisoners who have been demonised in the media and there is huge pressure on the prison system not to release them.
Some rightly ask, “What about the victims?” My response is that if we weaken our rehabilitation system we end up with more crime and more victims.
I’m glad the Green Party opposed both the Public Safety (Public Protection Orders) Bill and the Parole Extended Supervisions Orders Amendment Bill, as it did back in 2004 when the original extended supervision orders bill passed through parliament – I was the Green MP speaking on the issue at the time.
A final point. There are a number of commentators (on the Right and Left) determined to portray the Greens as moving to the Centre, without evidence from the Green’s parliamentary voting record. Noting the Green’s current staunch opposition to two bad “law and order” bills, as well as their speaking and voting against the Countering Terrorist Fighters Bill – Labour collapsed on both Bills – can anyone really argue the Greens are going to the Centre?