Nicholas Jones is a New Zealand Herald political reporter.

New legislation to prevent another Phillip John Smith-style escape

The Government has introduced legislation that implements recommendations from an inquiry into Phillip John Smith's escape to Brazil. Photo by Dean Purcell.
The Government has introduced legislation that implements recommendations from an inquiry into Phillip John Smith's escape to Brazil. Photo by Dean Purcell.

Government agencies will identify criminals with real-time information including facial recognition and fingerprints - no longer relying on name-based records that allowed Phillip John Smith to escape to Brazil.

Justice Minister Amy Adams has introduced the new legislation, which came from a high-level inquiry into how Smith, a murderer and child sex offender, left the country.

The changes have the cautious support of Labour.

Adams said it was the "step change" on information-sharing between agencies that the inquiry concluded was needed.

"It moves away from name-based records held by individual agencies to a shared, anchor identity based on unalterable information, such as finger prints and facial recognition."

The law change will apply to offenders and mental health patients subject to the criminal justice system.

It will also give agencies access to a database of drivers' licences and birth, death and marriages information.

Police will be able to access information from Corrections, and Customs will know instantly if an offender tries to leave New Zealand, Adams said.

"Too often we have seen misspelt names, aliases, using different information being able to defeat the purpose. This makes sure we that we are relying on information about an individual that can't be altered, and that is shared right through the system in real time.

"It would also ensure our police on the front lines when they are talking to someone on the street can not only pull up written information about someone but can also see a photo."

Smith fled New Zealand in November 2014 while on temporary release from Spring Hill Prison, but was caught in Rio de Janeiro after being recognised by a fellow backpacker in a hostel.

He had obtained a passport issued in his birth name Phillip John Traynor, some 16 months before he left New Zealand on November 6.

About eight hours before he boarded the flight he had been released from Spring Hill prison on a temporary release of 74 hours, and he was meant to stay with designated sponsors.

Smith did not return to Spring Hill on November 9, and it was only on the following day that it was confirmed he had left New Zealand.

Labour's justice spokeswoman Jacinda Ardern said most New Zealanders would expect that what was proposed in the legislation was already happening.

"We want to look at the detail around what is being proposed. But common sense here needs to prevail.

"You can't have a situation like the Smith/Traynor situation again. Most people were surprised that happened in the first place."

- NZ Herald

Get the news delivered straight to your inbox

Receive the day’s news, sport and entertainment in our daily email newsletter


© Copyright 2016, NZME. Publishing Limited

Assembled by: (static) on production apcf03 at 23 Oct 2016 17:38:21 Processing Time: 698ms