Withdrawal of funding for Sentencing Reports raises concerns for New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture
The Government’s announcement that it intends to withdraw funding for sentencing reports, currently available under 27 of the Sentencing Act 2002, raises concerns for lawyers.
There are significant risks that it will make it harder for judges to impose appropriate sentences, undermine rehabilitation and adversely impact reoffending rates. These are not the outcomes that the government, the legal profession, or the public want, says Maria Dew KC, President of the New Zealand Bar Association | Ngā Ahorangi Motuhake o te Ture.
Rachael Reed KC, Co-Chair of the Bar Association Criminal Committee, says Section 27 reports allow the judge to consider the appropriate sentence, chances of successful rehabilitation and what support is available to achieve this. Currently, offenders who qualify for legal aid can apply for funding for the preparation of a report. The government has announced that it is introducing legislation to prevent legal aid from being used to pay for these reports. While the government has indicated that the offender will still be able to call on a person to speak to the Court about their background, the reality will be that access to important information will not be as readily available and risks disadvantaging those who cannot afford to pay. The current situation, of funding s27 sentencing reports where appropriate, helps ensure equal access to appropriate sentencing information for the Court.
The Bar Association invites the government to consider the evidence about the impact of s27 sentencing reports since their use, to determine whether the cost / benefit justifies their continuation, when assessed against reoffending rates and rehabilitation gains made.