Keith Locke on the Courts and Criminal Matters Bill – second reading



The Courts and Criminal Matters Bill does try to confront a real problem. There are thousands of fines remaining unpaid and that causes all sorts of administrative difficulties in running around chasing after people to try to get some money out of them. But there is an intrinsic problem and I think this bill goes in the wrong direction. That is why the Green Party opposed the bill on the first reading and will oppose it on this reading as well. The bill is not particularly productive because the people it is chasing after, in the main, are the very poorest people in our society. They might get a little fine for a parking infringement, speeding fine, or some small criminal offence and they are the people who are down, often unemployed, between jobs, or in large families. It is somewhat difficult often for them to get the money together to pay the fine and they tend to avoid it and put it off, then it gets bigger, and more and more problems develop. There are two ways of dealing with that problem. One is to get alongside the person affected and try to work out a repayment system, work out a way that is not too much of a heavy burden on them at any one point in time. The other way is to just slam more penalties on top of them in various ways. The people this bill affects tend to be young Māori, and I presume maybe Hone Harawira is speaking after me. That is where the concentration of unpaid fines often happens to be. It makes young Māori who are more likely to be unemployed, more likely to be poorer, only poorer and face more difficulties socially in all kinds of ways under the pressure of what is proposed in this bill. This bill proposes various things like driver’s licence stop orders, so that a young person with fines owing, who is finding it very difficult to pay, and who may have finally got a job, jumps into their car to get to work to get the money to pay their fine, and all of a sudden they are hit with this driver’s licence stop order. They cannot get to their work, lose their job, and get further and further in debt. That is not necessarily the answer, and this is associated with amendments to the Sentencing Act 2002 to make more efficient the reparation and vehicle confiscation orders, which not only takes the licence off somebody who might be in this difficult position but actually confiscates their vehicle, which is probably the main asset they own in life and really puts them back to square one, or behind square one. Then to make matters worse, this bill authorises home detention or prison sentences to be substituted for unaffordable and unenforceable reparation orders. Again the young person, who is struggling, has not been able to afford their fines or for various reasons are a bit mixed up and all the rest of it, now not only do they lose their licence or lose their car but they might get chucked in jail or in home detention. It just is not the answer, although it may be the answer in some cases. The Green Party is certainly not denying that but the whole approach is a punitive approach that does not really put us any further forward. There is talk often about an underclass and all the rest of it in our society. If we are talking about an underclass, this bill will help to enlarge the underclass—the people who are really in difficulty. When they are subject to all these additional penalties they are more likely to change houses, change names, and try to get away from the authorities. That creates even more problems for them, their families, their friends, their workmates, etc. It does not really work. The other element of the bill is the provision of information on the fines to credit authorities. That does not necessarily help. Sure it helps if someone goes in for a loan and the credit authorities can find out that the person has a big fine and might be more likely to default on their loan. It is not really helping the person to get out of the bind they are in, and really we should be starting at the other end with more social workers, more people working with schools, working with all the sorts of people who are in contact with organisations such as community organisations, whānau organisations, iwi organisations.

All of these organisations can work somehow alongside these people to get them to repay their debts. To my way of thinking the punitive approach does not work. It develops collectively amongst people who are down at the bottom. There is a psychology of we are on one side and these people on the other side, the richer people, are out to get us, and that it is fair enough if we dodge the law, dodge the repayments, and all the rest of it, because that is the only way that we will get by in life. The Green Party, in summary sees all of these measures as being counterproductive—that is the word for it; they are counter-productive. If we add them all up we will not necessarily get more money for the Treasury out of them; we will get more social problems, more people in prison, more people unemployed, more people feeling alienated from the system, more people who feel that they are part of an underclass, and also more racial divisions in our society in the sense that Māori are probably more likely to be affected than non-Māori. Thank you.