Women and Criminal Justice

SPEECH TO RED HEARTS (CHRISTCHURCH LABOUR WOMEN’S BRANCH) FOR INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’S DAY, March 2010. (Part 1)

I feel that as the final speaker, I’m supposed to end on a positive note. I’m not going to deliver that optimistic ending.

My view, is that we are currently going through an erosion of human rights. We cannot assume any  collective acceptance of our human rights framework. Any past truce is over.

There has been a shift in our democracy. I refer to the Supercity structure and the suggestion that our democratically elected ECan could be scrapped and our local resource management handed over to a Board appointed by a Minister.

I also refer to recent legislation challenging our privacy through greater search and surveillance.

Being a lawyer, I first and foremost see an attack on our criminal justice system. Due to high profile cases like the Kahui twins or Louise Nicholas as well as the hysterical voices of the Family First Lobby and the Sentencing Sentencing Trust (or Non-Sensical Sentencing Trust as I prefer) the fundamental cornerstones of our criminal justice system are being rocked.

The right to silence i.e. to not to incriminate oneself by not having to give evidence is challenged by those who are disgusted that the Kahui family closed ranks to hinder investigation.

The right to a fair trial through an uninfluenced jury is challenged by those who criticise the suppression of names and evidence.

The right to a fair trial itself is challenged. I refer to an article in The Press last week where the family of a murder victim wondered “Why the matter had even gone to a hearing” and other recent articles and letters to the editor querying why legal aid is available to provide Counsel for the defence. I’m amazed we are questioning the fundamental right of the accused to have a fair hearing with access to skilled representation.

In  trial by media, we are no longer innocent until proven guilty.  In trial by media we are not entitled to have our fate determined by a jury of our peers.

Where are women in this dialogue? Women are here [Hold up The Listener cover “Why are so Many Christchurch Women Brutally Murdered, February 27-March 5, 2010 edition).

Of course, organizations are right to challenge the criminal justice system in terms of, for example, the abysmal conviction rate in rape trials. But we also need to be wary. For example, supporters of Louise Nicholas breached suppression rules by publicizing the Schollum and Shipton were already serving time in jail. What was not widely known at that time was that there was a second woman waiting to have her case heard against the same accused. She also had a right to have a fair hearing in terms of her complaint and we have to be wary of actions having a flow on effect and affecting others. An action thought to be assisting one woman find justice, could have hampered the right of another women to seek the same.

We also need to be careful not to buy into victimology. When women’s voices are heard, in terms of criminal justice reform, do we always want to be considered as victims? Particularly when being a victim is so often portrayed as weak, defenceless and bitter. It is rare, at least in the media, to see a victim who is strong and forgiving.

The present language around victimology is retributive. Does it reflect women’s values? If there are such common values. Feminists used to subscribe to a view of women and women’s values being compassionate, collectivist, nurturing and healing. These are not the current values reflected in discourse around victims, offenders and reform. Does Garth McVicar speak on behalf of women?

I also note, in this article, there is an overview of well reported violent offending in Christchurch. Here are the women – Lisa Blakie, Anna Wilson, Emma Agnew, Marie Davis, Tisha Lowry and other women. Here are the offenders – Timothy Taylor, Peter Waihape, Liam Reid, Dean Stewart, Jason Somerville and other men….

An entire article on Canterbury Crime; where is Gay Oakes?

Why do we remember Mark Lundy, David Gray and Clayton Weatherston? Why do we forget Gay Oakes. Tania Witika – manslaughter of her daughter, Delcilia Witika. Rachealle Namana, manslaughter of Lillybing. Julie Johnson who deliberately drove into a crowd of party goers killing Renee Brown and injuring 15 others (2003). Lisa Kuka for the manslaughter of Nia Glassie. Whatarangi Rawiri who was charged alongside Bailey Kurariki. Or Natalie Fenton, Katrina Fenton and Daniella Bowman who were all convicted for stabbing to death Raymond Mullins in 2000.

Women are offenders too. So when we talk about reform of our criminal justice system, we need to be aware that women fill the ranks of both sides. Consider this. The justice system is not a dish of pie to be sliced up. A greater serving for victims does not necessarily mean there is a smaller serve available for offenders. Equally, ensuring offenders are well served, does not mean victims miss out. The rights of all parties can be met.

(Part 2 to be posted shortly).

Why Parole?

Marc Alexander (ex-United Future MP, now National party candidate and fan of what I like to call the Nonsensical Sentencing Trust) has a letter to the Editor in today’s Press. One of his comments is that we shouldn’t have parole.

I don’t understand this position.

It’s very easy to sway people against parole by saying that inmates get let off lightly, because they get out of prison earlier and therefore doesn’t serve the full term of their imprisonment.

I think we need to look at it like this:

1. We cannot keep people in prison indefinitely.
2. After a sentence is completed, we can no longer impose any restrictions of their freedom.

    Therefore, the question is “Do we want to be able to monitor what a convicted criminal does on his or her release into the community?”.  Do we want to be able to:

    • Check before release that the offender is going to live at a suitable address?
    • Track their whereabouts?
    • Ensure they receive community based treatment programmes?
    • Encourage the person into gainful employment or training?
    • Recall the person to prison if he or she re-offends?

    If so, then that is parole. Parole allows the inmate to complete the last part of his or her sentence in the community, but allows us to place monitoring on them while their sentence is completed.

    Without parole, then as soon as their prison lag is finished they are up and out the door without restriction. Which one seems like a better option to you?