Three strikes law: Why one expert is applauding its repeal

Long Lunch 31/05/2018
Photo: Getty.

It is an end of a law that’s been widely criticised by legal experts.

The three strikes policy is set to be scrapped in just two weeks, with Justice Minister Andrew Little confirming that he will take a proposal to Cabinet in 9 days’ time.

Introduced in 2010, the three strikes law dictates that a judge must impose the maximum penalty when a person has been convicted three times for certain offences. Offenders facing their second strike are prohibited from parole.

Criminal Bar Association president Len Anderson told Wendyl Nissen that the rule was “arbitrary”.

“It had quite an inhumane consequence for people convicted on a second strike of murder because they could never be released,” Mr Anderson told RadioLIVE.

Under the law, judges can able to apply exceptional circumstances to cases considered manifestly unjust. Mr Anderson, who teaches law at the University of Otago, speculates that most judges have been reluctant to apply the rule in their cases.

I don’t think there’s anybody who likes it.

“With the Court of Appeal on murder cases, there has not yet been one murder conviction where the judge has not found exceptional circumstances on a second strike,” he said.

The law was passed under the previous National-led government with the support of the ACT Party. But Mr Anderson believes that the law wouldn’t have been passed by National if it hadn’t been in coalition with ACT.

ACT leader David Seymour opposes the repeal.

ACT leader David Seymour has called the repeal “a step in the wrong direction”, remarking that the law repeal won’t affect overcrowded prison numbers.

But Mr Anderson maintained that few people like the law, if any.

“Imprisoning people for longer periods and not offering them parole is a very expensive process. And unless we actually do something about the causes of crime and the reasons that people go to jail, you’re just going to have that continuing.”

An Auckland man famously faced a full sentence with no parole in 2016 for grabbing a prison officer on her bum. Having committed two violent offenses previously, Raven Casey Campbell appeared in court for his third strike.

The judge applied exceptional circumstances to the case because she believed Campbell’s remorse was genuine. He was given seven years in prison, with eligibility to apply for parole after completed one third of his sentence.

This is precisely why Mr Anderson applauds Mr Little’s move to repeal the law.

It is uncertain to whether the repeal will apply to old cases, though Mr Anderson points out that there are few people in prison on their third strike.

Only three people have made it to the third strike since the law was introduced in 2010.

Listen to the full interview with Len Anderson above.

The Long Lunch with Wendyl Nissen, 12pm - 3pm on RadioLIVE and streaming live to the rova app on Android and iPhone.