Things are about to get ugly. Or are they?
Jacinda Ardern front-footed election year in a very anti-Trumpian fashion last week: "New Zealanders deserve a factual campaign, one that is free from misinformation, where people can make honest reflections for themselves about what they want for the future of New Zealand."
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What does this mean in a legal context? Forcing Justice Minister Andrew Little and opposition justice spokesman Mark Mitchell to go head to head seemed appropriate.
After a little probing, National's Mark Mitchell came in hot, saying Little had spent two years and $1.5 million on criminal justice summits and consulting the public, "but we've seen nothing come out of this".
"The Government promised to overhaul the Justice system, and we've seen nothing yet. Unless they want this to end up as another broken promise, Andrew Little will have to be very, very busy this year."
Mitchell barbed that Little's "wait and see" attitude to National
questioning was simply "not good enough. He has been in the job two years and New Zealanders deserve to have action sooner". Meow meow, indeed.
He argued that Little had nothing to take home other than "rushed electoral amendment legislation," - which, ahem, is probably too close to the bone for National - protecting the name of the Ombudsman, the Waka Jumping Bill, and increasing the number of judges to 12, which was "hardly revolutionary work".
Mitchell claims that Little has simply continued the work National started, such as further investment for family and sexual violence. And support services. And the Family and Whanau Violence legislation. In other words, "you're welcome".
Au contraire, Little said he has inherited a justice system that featured record prisoner numbers, plans for a multi-billion dollar US-style mega-prison, "one of the worst re-offending rates in the western world, a run-down and demoralised police force, growing delays in the courts, an alcohol and drug court pilot that had run for five years and was renewed for another two, and the Government's chief victims advisor role reduced to two half days a week".
But wait, there's more. "It was clear to Ministers in this government that the system was doing nothing to reduce offending, reduce re-offending, and reduce the number of victims of crime.
"As well as addressing the years of neglect of criminal justice by the National government, this government thought it was well overdue to address the shameful over-representation of Māori in the [prison] system," Little said. And I shan't bore you around his views on giving prisoners the right to vote.
So what has Little and company achieved? They've added eight more coroners to eliminate delays in holding inquests, increased the number of police, and increased funding for community law centres - which was previously frozen under National. Prior to the announcement revenue from the Lawyers and Conveyancers Special Fund contributed 84.2 per cent of the total funding provided to community law centres in the year to 31 May 2019.
The decision to increase the number of judges was made in a bid to clear court backlogs so victims aren't having to wait years to see justice done, Little said. It just so happens Attorney General David Parker announced the appointment of 21 new District Court judges last week.
Not to be tokenistic or anything, but Parker said 12 of them were women, 10 were Maori, two were Samoan, one was Maori/Chinese, and eight were Pakeha. So without further ado, congratulations are in order for Turitea Bolstad, Michelle Duggan, Hana Ellis, Tony Greig, Nicola Grimes, Quentin Hix, Michelle Howard-Sager, Gordon Matenga, Alison McLeod, Bruce Northwood, Rachel Paul, Brandt Shortland, Kiriana Tan, and Robyn von Keisenberg.
In an act of "stay tuned for more", Parker has kept mum around the names of the remaining seven judges. The naming of judges isn't all that's in store for 2020, Little says, ensuring that they've "started on the hard stuff".
"New Zealanders have been clear about what they want. They want those who harm others to be held accountable. But they want offenders to be properly supported to change so they don't reoffend. They want victims to be properly supported and for their voice to be heard, including at senior levels of government with a chief victims advisor with a realistic amount of time to do the job.
"Most of all, New Zealanders have said they want to see a bi-partisan approach taken to our criminal justice system. They don't want mindless politicking and chest-thumping. Whether this happens isn't just in my hands. It's in Mark Mitchell's too."
Little may be cutting it fine if he's to continue to reform the justice system in less than a year. Say Labour doesn't get in, the question remains whether he has made a memorable impact, which is tough seeing as how can he possibly compare to Judith "Crusher" Collins.
If you've got any tips, legal tidbits, or appointments that might be of interest, please email sasha.borissenko@ gmail.com.