Category Archives: News

Blame, Shame and the Murder of Women

Grace Millane

Violence against women is one of New Zealand’s most significant and pressing social issues. Every day police respond to hundreds of family violence incidents, and women continue to die as a result of men’s violence. In December 2018 New Zealand recognised the severity of a specific offence – strangulation – and implemented legislative reform to address its pervasiveness. Five arrests for strangulation were reported a day in February 2019 . I mention all of this because of the Grace Millane murder trial.

On 21 December 2018 she was strangled to death while visiting New Zealand. Her body was later found in a suitcase, buried, in the Waitakere ranges in Auckland. The man accused of her murder claimed her death was the result of consensual rough sex that had “gone wrong”. After a three-week trial, a jury of five men and seven women found him guilty of murder after less than six hours of deliberation.

While a guilty verdict has been established, this does not detract from the distressing nature of this murder trial – distressing for myriad reasons: distressing because a young woman lost her life in a country where she should have been safe; because it quickly became a trial about a young woman’s sexual history and interests instead of the actions of a violent man; because while the defence said Millane was not to blame for what happened that night, the case it built suggested she was somehow blameworthy.

Continue reading Blame, Shame and the Murder of Women

Let’s be Pragmatic about Drugs

Fiona Hutton

I had the good fortune recently to attend a symposium to hear international experts João Goulão and Eric Costen from Portugal and Canada talking about the transformative reforms to drug laws in their respective countries. It was excellent to see how successful these have been, although Canada is admittedly only six months into its reform agenda. It was equally interesting to hear the concerns some people raised around drug law reform – concerns many New Zealanders and politicians have thought about.

Firstly, that legalising cannabis will make cannabis more available, particularly to vulnerable groups like young people. In reality, a liberalised regime where cannabis is easy to get hold of by all kinds of people, including vulnerable groups, is the position we are in now with prohibition and our current drug laws. The biggest myth of prohibition is that drugs are not available in our society – about 275 million people worldwide, roughly 5.6 per cent of the global population aged 15–64 years, used drugs at least once during 2016, according to the 2018 World Drug Report. A regulated cannabis regime, which is what is being proposed by reformers for New Zealand, would protect young people and other vulnerable groups by making cannabis harder for them to get hold of. The ‘product’ would also be quality controlled, standardised and have strength/dose information – something unavailable in the current illegal market. Drug law reformers are also concerned about the unregulated use of some drugs by vulnerable people and seek reform to protect those groups (as Canada has done). Cannabis law reform will not be a chaotic ‘free for all’. Continue reading Let’s be Pragmatic about Drugs

Tough on Crime or Smart on Crime – The End of An Era?

Kim Workman

Talking about law and order is something of a hazardous occupation, especially within a year either side of a general election.  The gloves come off.

Earlier this week, the following blog was posted on David Farrer’s Kiwiblog site:

“Kim Workman has six children from two marriages. Doubtless he has many grandchildren.

I want the photographs of Kim Workman’s grandchildren supplied to every paroled violent offender, along with their names, home addresses and where they go to school.

It is just and fair for the Workman family to share in the fruits of Kim’s lifework along with the rest of NZ society”. Oob, Kiwiblog 11 June 2018

I responded just as viciously:

“For the record, ten grandchildren, and three great grandchildren” Kim Workman, Kiwiblog 11 June 2018

Back came a response:

“Kim: but you haven’t given their names and addresses…or even your own, so those “good people” you say the prisons are full of can come calling when they get out…” David Garrett

The last comment came as something of a surprise.  David Garrett is the legal adviser to the Sensible Sentencing Trust.  That he would promote the violation of my mokopuna seemed out of sync with Sensible Sentencing’s concern to reduce victimisation.

In a typical law and order debate, political parties increasingly promote policies which appeal to our ‘gut instincts’ i.e. they feel and sound right, but may not be supported by evidence.   Since 1987 New Zealand general elections have relied increasingly on law and order policies which attract that kind of reasoning.  Here, I want to discuss some of the key messages that political parties have promoted at elections over the last thirty years, whether those political messages are evidence-based, and whether they will reduce crime. Finally, I want to consider what happens when a political party proposes a new way of doing things, and its likelihood of success.

You can read the full 20 page piece by Kim Workman here. This paper was first presented at the Wellington Combined Probus Club, Miramar, Wellington, 14 June 2018. Kim Workman is an Adjunct Research Associate at the Institute of Criminology, Victoria University of Wellington.

Stop Prison Building: An Open Letter to the NZ Government

We are criminal justice researchers calling on the government to stop the build of a new prison at Waikeria. The proposal to spend a billion dollars on this venture is at odds with its explicit commitment to reduce prison numbers. To allow time for a national conversation about alternatives, we propose a moratorium on all new prison construction.

Never before have so many New Zealanders been incarcerated. Since 1986, the number of prisoners has swelled from 2,700 to 10,700, a four-fold increase. This puts us out of step with the rest of the world. While our crime rates are broadly similar to other countries in the OECD, our rate of 220 prisoners per 100,000 population is well above the OECD average.

The rapid expansion of our prisons disregards the overwhelming evidence that people sent to prison are more likely to re-offend than people with similar offending given community sentences. Contrary to the official goal of “corrections”, prisons foster criminality and often intensify the problems they are designed to address. Continue reading Stop Prison Building: An Open Letter to the NZ Government

Structural Discrimination

In recent years, politicians and senior public service managers, while openly acknowledging the differential between Māori and non-Maori, have resisted the idea that there is any deliberate ethnic bias, or evidence of personal racism in the system.


There is general agreement that adverse early-life experiences, and social and environmental factors contribute significantly to high Māori, which in turn impact on offending patterns.  However, while there is evidence of structural discrimination within the criminal justice system, and allegations of personal racism, there is a general reluctance to conduct research into these areas.  The absence of research thus enables politicians and senior public servants to deny that such issues exist, in the absence of clear evidence to the contrary.


The idea of systemic bias within the criminal justice system has been resisted by government agencies over recent years.  When the Hon Dr Pita Sharples, Co-Leader of the Māori Party, launched the party’s Justice Policy on 1 October 2011, he spoke about the structural discrimination against Māori within the criminal justice system in general, and the Police in particular.  There was an expected public backlash against the comments and, when invited to comment, Rethinking Crime and Punishment issued a media release citing research  which supported Dr Sharple’s view. Dr Sharples was interviewed on Q and A on the 9 Oct.   On the 14th October, Commissioner Peter Marshall came to the defence of his staff in an interview on Te Karere. He did not agree there was a racial bias in Police dealings with Maori.

The issue was vigorously discussed on talkback radio, and most of the comment supported the Commissioner’s position.  Some commentators reproached Dr Sharples for his claims, and the then Minister of Police, the Hon Judith Collins, publicly chastised him for being ‘out of order’. Continue reading Structural Discrimination

Trafficking Culture in New Zealand and Beyond

In 1972, in a swamp near Motunui, Taranaki, a local man discovered five buried wooden carved panels, removed them to his home, and subsequently sold them to a visiting English antiquities dealer for NZ$6,000. The dealer illegally took them out of New Zealand, ignoring the requirement to apply for an export permit, which he surely would not have received.

In New York in 1973, he sold the panels to the famous collector George Ortiz for US$65,000. Ortiz shipped the panels back to his home in Geneva. A stipulation of this dodgy deal was that Ortiz was not allowed to show the panels to any New Zealand archaeologists for a period of two years following the sale: enough time presumably for any heat to have begun to die down, or so it might be thought. In fact these were the ‘Motunui Panels’, which since the 1970s have been the subject of an ongoing debate that has only recently come to a resolution. They are thought to have originally lined the walls of a pātaka, and were speculated to have been deliberately buried in the swamp for safekeeping by Te Āti Awa around the time of a battle at Motunui in 1822. Continue reading Trafficking Culture in New Zealand and Beyond

Begging and Benefits: When Is Income ‘Income’?

A-Prof Lisa Marriott

Why are amounts received from begging not income for tax purposes but are income for the purposes of income testing welfare benefits?   

On 20th February 2017, Frank Lovich was convicted of fraud for begging while receiving a benefit. Among other charges, Mr Lovich was convicted under section 15 of the Summary Offences Act 1981. Under this legislation, a person is ‘liable to imprisonment for a term not exceeding 3 months or a fine not exceeding $1,000 who solicits, gathers, or collects alms, subscriptions, or contributions by means of any false pretence’.

While the Police have indicated they are not going to commence prosecution proceedings against all welfare recipients who may engage in begging activity, an important question arises from this situation: Are we, yet again, treating people on welfare differently from other people in society?  Continue reading Begging and Benefits: When Is Income ‘Income’?