Victims want judges to answer for actions

Judges should face performance reviews and be held accountable for their decisions, victims say.

Parliament's law and order committee yesterday heard submissions on the Bail Amendment Bill, which aims to crack down on the high rate of offending on bail by defendants charged with murder, violent, sex and class A drug offences.

It proposes reversing the burden of proof in bail decisions for some serious offences - defendants would be required to prove they should be bailed.

Christchurch mother Vanessa Pickering was murdered by Malcolm Chaston while he was on bail. Her aunt, Robyn Hanson, told MPs Chaston was a "recidivist violent and sexual offender with numerous bail breaches".

"This crime should not have happened," she said.

Her niece, then 7, was put through a terrifying ordeal in the hours after her mother's murder.

"Malcolm Chaston was on bail. To improve public safety our bail laws need to be stronger.

"Judges have released defendants on bail in the past despite having an assessment of risk that should have kept the defendant in custody. Too many have gone on to reoffend and to murder . . ." she said.

New amendments proposed in the legislation did not go far enough and would not have kept Chaston on remand, she told MPs.

Leigh Woodman's 15-year-old daughter, Vanessa, was murdered by 18-year-old Nicholas Hawker in February 1997. He strangled her, slit her throat and stabbed her 32 times before sexually assaulting her in the grounds of Wellington's Onslow College.

Ms Woodman said if police opposed bail it should not be granted.

She also wants an independent authority tasked with an annual review of judges' performance.

"There needs to be more accountability for judges who expose the public to undue risk"' she said.

"Every year I have a performance review or appraisal on the job I am doing, as do most people in New Zealand, so why are judges exempt from this?"

Lawyer Stephen Franks, representing the Sensible Sentencing Trust, said offenders treated the legal system as a game.

"Bail is just part of that . . . the current system of bail gives them free hits," he said.

"If they are on a charge for a serious offence, concurrent sentencing means that further offences committed on bail can mean no increase in penalty."

Judicial accountability is "a difficult one because of the desire for independence of the judiciary".

The law requires that the most serious offences attract maximum sentences. "It appears the judges have entirely ignored that. Parliament should not be squeamish . . . the judges have had their own views of what they would do with the sentencing principles and they have not applied them."

Legislation should give direction to judges "and not trust judges' discretions in some of these matters".

The Dominion Post