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New Zealand: “Three-Strikes” Law To Be Introduced

(Jan. 22, 2010) On January 19, 2010, New Zealand's National Party government announced that it had reached an agreement with one of its coalition partners on a policy that will make repeat violent offenders ineligible for parole if they are convicted of their third serious offense. (Press Release, Judith Collins, National and ACT Agree to Three-Strikes Regime (Jan. 19, 2010), available at

Under the policy, a person who commits their first serious offense will receive a standard sentence for the offense and a warning. If he/she commits a second serious offense, it will likely result in a prison sentence with no parole and a warning. If a person goes on to be convicted of a third serious offense, he/she will receive the maximum sentence possible for that offense, with no eligibility for parole. There will be some judicial discretion to allow judges to not make an order for the sentence to be served without parole if it is “manifestly unjust” to impose this. (Id.)

Qualifying serious offenses will include all major violent and sexual offenses that have a maximum sentence of more than seven years imprisonment. (Id.) The maximum sentence for murder and manslaughter is life imprisonment, meaning that it will be possible for a person to be imprisoned for the remainder of their life on their “third strike.” Currently, a minimum non-parole period is included as part of any life sentence, although preventive detention (where an offender must remain in prison until it is determined that they are no longer a threat to the community, with recall possible if they are released on parole) is also available to judges as a sentencing option for the most dangerous and high risk offenders.

The regime will only apply to offenses committed after the legislation comes into force. (Id.)

The Minister of Corrections, Judith Collins, said that “[t]he regime will be harsh – but only for the small number of people in our community who show continued disregard for the law and contempt for society.” (Id.)

Other political parties and some commentators have criticized the policy as being “populist,” “hysterical,” and a “political gimmick.” The Maori Party said that it was “appalled” at the policy. (John Hartevelt & Ian Steward, Opposition to Govt's 'Three Strikes' Sentencing Policy, STUFF.CO.NZ, Jan. 20, 2010, available at
; John Hartevelt & Matt Calman, Police, Judge Attack New Policy, THE DOMINION POST, Jan. 21, 2010, available at
.) The Rethinking Crime and Punishment lobby group raised concerns about police having too much discretion and overcharging offenders, and about offenders sentenced without parole lacking the motivation to reform. (Hartevelt & Steward, id.)

The lobby group the Sensible Sentencing Trust welcomed the announcement and said it was “just desserts” for violent criminals. (Id.) The relatives of some murder victims also applauded the policy. (Hartevelt & Calman, supra.)

The provisions giving effect to the policy will be incorporated into the Sentencing and Parole Reform Bill that is currently being considered by a parliamentary committee. The committee will seek further submissions on the provisions before reporting back to parliament at the end of March 2010. (Press Release, supra.)