INDEPENDENT NEWS

Govt Tells Multiple Offenders To Start Lying: ACT

Published: Mon 29 Nov 2004 08:31 AM
Govt Tells Multiple Offenders To Start Lying About Their Past
The Clean Slate Act, which suppresses the criminal records of over 500,000 New Zealanders, comes in to force this week, ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks reminded people today.
"Hardly anyone knows about it. Even Business New Zealand got it wrong, in warning its members. It said that it would allow offenders to apply to have their records suppressed. That's wrong. The records are automatically suppressed, for everyone who qualifies, until they commit a fresh offence. Then the record revives for another seven years. Not much comfort to the victim of the fresh offence, who might not have been a victim if they'd been allowed to know.
"So the Act lies in its title. It doesn't create a clean slate, and it instructs people to lie about their past after seven years of not being caught in New Zealand," Mr Franks said.
"The best predictor of future offending is past offending, especially multiple past offending, and one of the best incentives to stay straight is concern about your reputation, and the reputation of your family. Now Mr Goff and his Labour colleagues are ending both of those alternatives to formal punishment. They're telling young offenders that they need not worry about their reputation, and people who have to trust others are not allowed to know the past.
"From Tuesday, a priest could face a $10,000 fine for telling parish members to obey the commandment to tell the truth. A would-be fiancée, asking her intended about his past, faces the same fine. So does someone looking for a flatmate, a club considering a treasurer, or employers trying to get objective information about someone who will be in a position of trust.
"Labour has exempted the criminal justice and security systems, but not medical and educational services that most innocent New Zealanders rely on. Even the Law Society checking the honesty of young lawyers doesn't get an exemption.
"This law isn't about giving second chances. It is about nine, ten or fifteen second chances. Most New Zealanders who know about one or two long past offences of course would and do give offenders a second chance. But this law applies no matter how many previous offences there were, as long as the crime hasn't resulted in prison. Our `play way' justice system means the average prisoner has had nine previous convictions before going to prison.
"This Bill is about forcing forgiveness, not because of compassion, or being satisfied that the past is the past, but through compulsory ignorance. Labour and the Greens know that only idiots would consider multiple prior offences information was irrelevant, but patterns of offending are the best objective predictors of re-offending risk.
"The seven years deemed rehabilitation will still apply, no matter how seriously you have offended overseas during that time. This law will not work. It will hurt people who might expect help from it. The well connected will still be able to find out about previous offences.
"The next step will be even more bizarre. The Select Committee adopted the suggestion of the Human Rights Commission, that it become illegal for New Zealanders to discriminate against someone with a proven crime history, or to give preference to someone who has never offended," Mr Franks said.
* For background detail and further comment including the ACT Minority Commentary in the Select Committee Report see http://www.act.org.nz/action/documents/cleanslate.pdf

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