New Year tosh on law and order – a bill to enable the Parole Board to do something it can do already

Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe apparently has spent some of his Christmas holiday time thinking about law and order and how to make us safer in our beds.  Let’s hope he comes up with some brighter ideas than the one he announced in a press statement yesterday.

The statement announced he has lodged a private member’s bill crafted – it seems – to ensure convicted murderers who won’t reveal the location of their victim’s bodies will be denied parole.

Macindoe explains:

“An important part of coming to terms with the death of a loved one is the closure of bringing their body home. Sadly, there are some offenders who refuse to disclose where the bodies of their victims are.

“This adds considerably to the distress of relatives who sometimes spend a lifetime agonising over what might have happened, and their inability to hold a funeral and lay their family member to rest.

Macindoe goes on to promise: 

“Too often, victims have reported feeling let down by our justice system, National will change that.

“National’s recently-released Law and Order Discussion Document contains a range of policies and proposals that will put victims at the heart of the justice system.”

He references supportive British thinking:

“The United Kingdom is considering a similar law in response to the murder of Helen McCourt, who disappeared in 1988 and whose body has never been recovered. The offender was sentenced to life imprisonment with a non-parole period of 16 years. He has never revealed the whereabouts of Helen’s body.” 

But whoa.

What happens to the wrongly convicted murderer who won’t disclose the whereabouts of a body because they didn’t kill the victim or hide the body?

The imperfections of our justice system and the erroneous convictions that can result were featured in an article in Noted in July last year.  This addressed claims that police often turn a blind eye to possible corruption out of a misplaced sense of loyalty to colleagues.

The article featured investigator and former cop Tim McKinnel, who was instrumental in proving Teina Pora’s innocence after he’d spent 22 years in prison for raping and murdering Susan Burdett.

McKinnel believes this reluctance of police to speak up about possible corruption and mistakes had much to do with a misplaced sense of loyalty to their colleagues, which was a part of police culture worldwide.

And those who did speak out, such as Dave Henwood who claimed in 2012 that Teina Pora was innocent, often had their lives made very difficult by the police, meaning it was even less likely others would break ranks and step forward.

According to the New Zealand Herald, Macindoe said he was not worried the bill could result in wrongfully convicted prisoners being locked away for life, because it did not make it mandatory for the parole board to deny parole.

And true enough, his press statement says:

“The Concealment of Location of Victim Remains Bill would place a duty on the Parole Board to take into account a prisoner’s refusal to reveal the location of their victim’s body when considering whether they should be released.”

But this is not not how the bill was introduced in the opening sentence of his press statement:

A Members’ Bill that would see convicted murderers ineligible for parole if they don’t reveal the location of their victim’s body has been lodged in the ballot, Hamilton West MP Tim Macindoe says.

The New Zealand Herald similarly opened its report by saying:

A National MP wants to see no parole for convicted murderers if they don’t reveal the location of their victim’s body.    

Moreover, the caption beneath a photograph of Macindoe says he has lodged a “no body, no parole” members’ bill in the ballot.

More significantly, the newspaper quoted a Government spokesperson as saying

” … the Parole Board already takes into account genuine remorse and refusing to assist in body recovery is clearly not remorse.

“The Members’ Bill is dog whistle politics that will do nothing to ensure less offending, less re-offending, and fewer victims of crime.”

Criminal Bar Association president Len Andersen QC said the bill could resonate with the public, but …

“It is not necessary. Part of what the Parole Board already looks at is remorse, and if someone admits they did it, but did not disclose where the body is, it clearly shows a lack of remorse and they would be unlikely to get parole.”

The bill would only likely be relevant where a person was convicted but denied the crime.

Most disturbing, Andersen said:

“Statistics show about 10 per cent of people in prison are wrongly convicted, including for murder, so [the bill] could be providing a punishment for people wrongly convicted.”

Notwithstanding his assurance about his bill not making it mandatory for the parole board to deny parole, at Point of Order we suggest Macindoe spend some of his remaining holiday time thinking about how to reduce that disturbing rate of wrongful convictions. 

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