The challenge in any new endeavour seeking public support is to under-promise and over-deliver.

The Independent Justice Advisory Group is heading on the road around New Zealand to talk to people through open clinics and targeted visits to see what is happening on the front line.

We want to know what is new in dealing with a criminal justice system that most people accept is not working.

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It has become obvious that we will have to use our time well, and that one visit may not be enough to hear all who have something worthwhile to say.


It is like dancing on the head of a pin, choosing who there is time to speak with on the first time around. Though everyone has a view, fewer have experience that will be helpful.

Many people express the same views, so it may not be best use of the group's time to hear the same message many times over, although we know widely held views set the baseline for where public opinion sits.

The expectation is that travelling through the country we will hear a myriad of suggestions from anybody who wants to talk and then come back with suggestions for transformative changes to the justice system in early 2019.

This is obviously far from achievable because to do justice to all that listening and travelling will take more than a few weeks over Christmas to knock into shape.

Then there would need to be some genuine consultation with people as to suggestions.
But there is the chance to make some quick gains on obvious changes that may be more policy than legislation or regulatory which could set the scene a little.

However, more grunty suggestions for change will be later in the year — hopefully in the May to June timeframe.

What we know is that we cannot keep going the way we are.

To live in a fantastic country such as New Zealand and have people recycling through prisons at a constant rate of about 10,500 locked up at any one time does not look like success to me.


To have poor people, many of them Maori and Pasifika, running through courts, while the more affluent rarely darken the door doesn't look fair. Because over-representation in incarceration looks racist on the face of it.

We have government agencies who do not sing from the same song sheet in relation to drug offending, for example, with multiple charges for even very low levels of offending resulting in over-charging.

No motorist would expect multiple charges for cracked tail-lights on the same vehicle, yet some happily see people charged with multiple offences for the same incident in the criminal jurisdiction.

None of which address the nub of the problem.

So are we going to deal with low-level drug use as a health issue or a criminal issue? It depends whether you talk to police, health, education, social development or housing agencies.

Connectedness between these agencies and the courtroom is variable at best, with some areas very engaged and others completely disconnected.

Chester Borrows
Chester Borrows

Most non-governmental groups focus better on individuals and families and, with no legislation to bind them, are freer to be creative. Many of them have great suggestions for small tweaks that could make progress far more achievable.

Getting them heard has been a problem, because they don't hold the purse-strings, but justice should come in a variety of sizes depending on the depth of pockets.
So, we are on the road and no doubt there will be various reports of success and failure to account for.

Those politically persuaded will be either pro or anti depending on their leanings.
For my money we have an opportunity here to make some huge and positive changes, and to squander that opportunity would be a shame.

We will be in Whanganui on November 16, and it will be great to hear ideas.

Chester Borrows served as Whanganui MP for 12 years and as a minister in the National Government