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Prisoners To Be Pre-Screened For Parole

Contributor:
Fuseworks Media
Fuseworks Media
Simon Power
Simon Power

Wellington, Aug 25 NZPA - Prisoners up for parole will be pre-screened to "weed out" those who are unlikely to be granted release, Justice Minister Simon Power said today.

Screening hearings would spare victims the trauma of regular parole board hearings and allow the board to focus on cases requiring more careful consideration, Mr Power said when announcing the proposal before more than 100 victims' families at the Sensible Sentencing Trust conference at Parliament.

Parole board chairman David Carruthers told the conference parole was declined at about 70 percent of hearings.

"Many of them are easily predictable. We know that and so does the prisoner, and yet by law we have to have that discussion and put the victim through that distress, even though we know the outcome," Judge Carruthers said.

"It would prevent a lot of victim distress, save us a lot of time and money and it is a very effective way of making the system more victim-centred and efficient."

Mr Power told NZPA the introduction of screening was still some time away.

"We're very keen to hear more about this issue so we don't have situations where people are needlessly reminded of offending where there is little or no chance of someone being granted parole," he said.

The move was welcomed by trust spokesman Garth McVicar, who said the proposal was "a huge step forward".

"I have watched family members throwing up with fear before parole hearings, but if an offender has no chance of parole, why do we put the victims through the agony?"

Leigh Woodman, whose 15-year-old daughter Vanessa was raped and murdered in Wellington in 1997, said she had attended every parole hearing since murderer Nicholas Hawker became eligible after 10 years of his life sentence.

"It's incredibly stressful going before the parole board time and time again, but we have to do this on behalf of our daughter," she said.

Other proposed changes outlined today included measures to help unclog the courts.

These included raising the threshold needed for a jury trial, requiring counsel to attempt to resolve cases before going to a hearing, and requiring the defence to identify disputed issues so the court could focus on them at trial.

It was unacceptable that it took up to 18 months for cases to proceed to trial, "drawing out what is an already painful experience for victims and their families".

Mr Power said existing measures to unclog the system were already showing results, among those the introduction of audio visual links in courts and prisons, and the removal of oral depositions hearings.

A bill with the new measures would likely be introduced into Parliament before the end of the year.

A new Victims Rights Act was also likely early next year.

The Ministry of Justice was analysing public submissions on issues including the censorship of victim impact statements, victim-prosecutor communication, and the victim notification system.

Mr Power said the government were also looking at the bail system, with a public consultation document to be released later this year.

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