Marc My Words - 16 December 2005
Political comment By Marc Alexander
Sometimes the very idea of justice in this country is a sick joke worthy only of derision. Even the word itself -
justice- coming from the mouths of its political custodians, has as much gravitas as the word love from the mouth of a
street hooker. Plunging the art of spin to new depths of self serving cynicism, Justice Minister Mark Burton has
audaciously defended the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act because it purportedly recognised " that victims have the
right to make a claim" against criminals who profit through compensation payouts while incarcerated for offences that
landed them in prison!
This follows the Court of Appeal decision to uphold, and in one case increase, compensation to five of New Zealand's
worst criminals. One hundred and thirty thousand dollars of money from taxpayers (some of whom are victims of crime) is
now earmarked for these offenders. Taunoa - who left Hugh Lynch lying dead with his throat slit - has been awarded a
$10,000 top-up on the original $55,000 compensation for his treatment in jail; yet Anne Lynch, the wife of the victim,
has never received compensation. Clearly, victims of crime are given lesser consideration than criminals!
There is no shortage of bleeding hearts jumping to the defence of this injustice. They are the purveyors of a
philosophy that do not accept that criminals be held responsible for their fate. They have no sympathy for punishment
and penalty nor, by implication, do they have an expectation of certain levels of societal behaviour enforced with a
judicial payback when there are serious breaches. These PC liberals are so intellectually flaccid that they can come up
with an excuse for everybody and everything except, of course, the law abiding victims.
Well, the public is no longer buying into that nonsense. They have had enough. Taxpayers have had a guts full of things
like the payment of $280,000 in the last year to remove the tattoos that criminals have freely chosen to adorn
themselves with. Meanwhile victims struggle to meet costs foisted on them by the crimes committed against them. Victim
Support is seriously under-resourced; staffed by volunteers who freely give their time and compassion while the criminal
gets lawyers, counselling and, if convicted, makes no contribution to their own or their victim's up-keep. Our system is
as pathetic as it is spineless.
The new Justice Minister's press release concluded "This government is determined to advance and uphold the rights of
victims as illustrated by the Prisoners' and Victims' Claims Act, (9 December 2005)". But nothing could be further from
the truth. Having been on the Select Committee that dealt with the Act I can tell you that no victim wanted to endure an
ongoing legal relationship with the criminal just to prevent the offender from profiting from their imprisonment. No one
can deny that if prisoners were badly treated they should have recourse to ameliorate their circumstances. And yes,
punish those responsible. But victims were unanimous in their utter distaste for a judicial system that allows criminals
to be financially better off for being in prison.
The spurious arguments of those who suggest all people should be equal before the law with respect to compensation have
selective amnesia when it comes to prison inmates. They are not equal: that's precisely the point. The day we consider
those in prison to have equal status with the rest of society is the day we have lost the truth of action and
consequence, law and disorder, reward and punishment. We will have abandoned the very principles of justice itself.
Our system treats criminals as the real victims; with the greatest sympathy and consideration is given to the most vile
and despicable. We are expected to care for these perpetrators; to look beyond their criminal offences to glimpse their
humanity and see the wronged child beating within the criminal's heart. Ultimately that is the essence of the liberal
argument: every adult criminal is the consequence of being a child victim. That is rubbish!
What dire childhood can excuse attackers who laugh while their victim, a woman, pleads for her life as she is repeatedly
run over and then crushed against a wall by a car?
Reports by witnesses yesterday of the brutal attack on the woman has prompted a police search that ended when a bound
body was found dumped in the Avon river (Christchurch). The body of the woman was found partly clothed, lying on her
back with the hands bound at the wrists. It was reported that the attackers fled the scene after bundling her into a
white Honda hatchback they had used to run her over at least four or five times. Her assailants, when caught, do not
deserve any benefit of the doubt. They have killed with impunity depriving her of a life and created a family of victims
who will have their lives changed forever. She was someone's daughter. She should matter.
There are as many hard luck stories as there are people. Yes some people have it harder than others. Yes, life can be
cruel, unrelenting, and deeply hurtful. But people can rise above their difficulties. Most do.
They may need help - and we should be there to offer it - but if we attribute every infringement of the rule of law to a
random happenstance of a deeper social ill, we will then invite a lack of personal restraint with no greater consequence
than to 'treat' those apprehended as victims themselves. Where then, the incentive to be the author of our own lives and
abide by laws?
The biggest problem we face is the lack of discernment in the way we deal with those who flout the laws. Some
rehabilitate, while others do not. Typically the earlier we can intervene in the offender's criminal career, the better
the opportunity for rehabilitation.
A number of excellent programmes already exist but politicians are loathe to fund them well. Mostly, I suspect because
politicians rarely see political value in addressing a problem in its infancy. With all the deserving causes we face,
how do you justify a thirty million dollar programme that would deal a body blow to crime statistics in ten year's time
when the Opposition may be in power to claim the success? Admittedly, this is a cynical view but, having been there, I
know it is part and parcel of the wider political calculation.
We need a new generation of leaders who will put their politicking aside long enough to do the right thing. The war
against crime, with its enormous human and economic costs can be won. There are community organisations brimming with
passionate individuals who, in spite of funding restrictions, bring change in offenders one by one.
Those that cannot be rehabilitated are readily identifiable, as most Corrections officers will tell you, and they need
to be warehoused where they will do no more harm - for the term of natural life if need be. It is time re-orient our
focus to the goal of reducing the number of victims, reducing the number of crimes, and employing strategies that
actually work rather than those that emanate from a certain ideological world view - and bugger the politics.
Otherwise our 'criminal justice system' will remain aptly named: Criminal.