It is the responsibility of Judges to pass sentence on offenders who are convicted of an offence.
The Sentencing Act 2002 sets out the purposes and principles of sentencing (although it doesn’t say that any particular purpose or principle is more important than any other, and still allows Judges discretion to decide the appropriate level of sentence in each case).
The purposes of sentencing, set out in Part 1 of the Act, include:
- holding the offender accountable
- promoting in the offender a sense of responsibility
- providing for the interests of the victim (including by ordering reparation for harm done)
- denunciation (strong disapproval) of the offender's conduct
- deterrence of both the offender and other persons
- protection of the community
- assisting in the offender's rehabilitation and reintegration back into the community.
Judges must consider certain principles when determining a sentence in each case, such as:
- the gravity (seriousness) of the offending
- the culpability (blameworthiness) of the offender
- the seriousness of the type of offence
- the seriousness of the actual offending compared to other offences of the same type
- the desirability of consistency of sentences for similar offending
- the effects of the offending on the victim
- the personal circumstances of the offender including personal characteristics which may make a sentence disproportionately severe upon that particular person
- and whether any restorative justice agreements or terms have been reached (that is, whether the victim and the offender have met and agreed ways in which the offender might make amends for his or her offence).
The Sentencing Act also lists aggravating and mitigating factors and requires Judges to impose the maximum sentence (or something close to it) in the worst cases. It provides for 17-year minimum non-parole terms for murder where certain aggravating features are present and establishes a hierarchy of sanctions.
In part two, it sets out the range of sentences available to the Courts and how they can be imposed. These include a range of monetary penalties, a range of community penalties, and a range of custodial penalties.
If an offender is sentenced to a community sentence or to imprisonment (but not a fine), it becomes the responsibility of the community probation or the prison to administer that sentence.
For more information about sentencing visit the Courts of New Zealand website.