6 Mar 2024

Legislation scrapping funding for Section 27 cultural sentencing reports passes under urgency

10:01 am on 6 March 2024
National party MP Paul Goldsmith

Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith Photo: RNZ / Angus Dreaver

The government's bill ending taxpayer funding of reports into offenders' backgrounds at sentencing has been passed through all stages under urgency.

In a statement, Justice Minister Paul Goldsmith hailed the move as returning the reports to "their original purpose", saying it put an end to "what has become a cottage industry costing the taxpayers millions with no benefits to the real victims of crime".

National campaigned on ending funding for the reports, saying about 2500 were produced last year at a cost of $7.5 million with no evidence to suggest they had saved the government money by avoiding prison sentences and stopping people committing further crimes.

However, the bar association, along with the Law Society and former judges, have argued the reports allowed judges to consider appropriate sentences for offenders.

They said the reports would still be written for some offenders - those who could afford them - leaving out groups like working class or poor Māori, Pākehā, and Pasifika.

At the Legal Services Amendment Bill's third reading, Goldsmith - in a short two-minute speech - said the amount spent was unjustifiable.

"The legal aid funding for section 27 reports has increased from approximately $40,000 in 2017 to more than $7 million in the past financial year, and this cannot be justified," he said.

The opposition said the government was dog-whistling, and said the hard-on-crime approach would only lead to more victims.

"The National Party and its coalition partners have a view of equal treatment before the law which is one-dimensional. It takes no account for the distinctions of people, where they come from, their circumstances, and their financial and wider ability to wrestle with the justice system," said Labour's Justice spokesperson Duncan Webb said.

"We know that children of prisoners are much more likely to be prisoners themselves. That's what you're doing. That's what this is doing."

He acknowledged there may have been some quality and cost issues with the production of the reports, but said the coalition was ignoring the advice of officials in scrapping funding for the reports completely, and Labour would be closely watching to see the savings went to victims.

Goldsmith said offenders would still be able to call for a person to provide background information to the court.

The bill passed its third reading with 68 votes from the coalition parties, and 54 votes from the opposition parties.

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