17 Aug 2017

Law to prevent Phillip Smith-style escape passes

7:44 am on 17 August 2017

Legislation aiming to prevent a repeat of convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith's infamous escape has passed its final reading in Parliament.

Phillip John Smith

Convicted murderer and sex offender Phillip John Smith was recaptured in Brazil. Photo: RNZ / POLICE

The change will strengthen how agencies work together by allowing them to share information to identify high-risk offenders. It will allow police to get real-time identity information from Corrections about a dangerous offender who is unaccounted for.

Customs will also know instantly if an absconder tries to leave the country.

Smith fled New Zealand in November 2014 while on a three-day release from Spring Hill Prison in Waikato. He managed to fly to Chile then Brazil using a passport under his birth name, before being captured.

He was serving a life sentence for murdering the father of a boy he had sexually assaulted, for kidnapping, and other charges.

An inquiry into his escape found a litany of failings.

Justice Minister Amy Adams told Parliament last night the bill went some way towards repairing the damage.

"It represents a move towards a single shared record of information about offenders for law and border enforcement agencies.

"This record will shift away from reliance on name and date of birth records ... and instead make greater use of biometrics such as fingerprints, facial recognition and iris scans."

The inquiry looked at several departments, including Internal Affairs, over the issue of why a passport under Smith's birth name did not trigger any red flags on the name he was convicted under.

The report found a person's official identity was not always or consistently established by state agencies and shared between them.

Labour justice spokesperson Andrew Little questioned why it had taken the government nearly three years since Smith's escape to make the necessary changes.

"The government is open to criticism, justifiably ... there have been other crimes committed by people who have absconded and got through the very net that we are in the process of trying to close up," Mr Little said.

But the Green Party's David Clendon said he saw very little in the bill that would have stopped Smith from fleeing.

He said Smith was able to get a legal passport because of a "bureaucratic blunder", and he was not convinced the bill would prevent that "human error" recurring.

The legislation was passed 104 votes to 14, with just the Greens opposing.

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