2 Oct 2015

Major law changes to follow Smith inquiry

6:20 am on 2 October 2015

The government is set to make major changes to prevent another embarrassing international manhunt for an escaped prisoner.

Peter Dunne

Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne (pictured) said the report into Phillip Smith's escape had revealed alarming deficiencies. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

In a report released yesterday, investigators detailed multiple failings by Corrections, Customs, police and others that let murderer and paedophile Phillip Smith abscond to Chile.

The inquiry made 39 recommendations to the government, which has accepted 34 outright and is considering the others.

Read the list of recommendations to the government - and its response (PDF, 406KB)

Phillip Smith

Phillip John Smith Photo: RNZ / Murielle Baker

Minister of Internal Affairs Peter Dunne said the report had revealed some alarming deficiencies in the system, including a serious lack of communication between government agencies.

Under the proposed changes, Mr Dunne's own powers look likely to be increased, including by making it easier for him to cancel a passport or stop a passport being issued to an offender.

"There was nothing to stop Mr Smith obtaining a passport in the first place," Mr Dunne said.

"Had the information been available as to his criminal offending, and who he was, that would have had a significant impact, but I think that the provisions that are suggested for inclusion in the [Passports Act] clarify that and make it much tighter."

Mr Dunne said more information sharing between agencies was crucial and he would be happy for Internal Affairs to share more information with Corrections and vice-versa.

He was not sure how long it would take to implement the changes but he hoped it would be sometime next year.

"We have got to, as this case highlights, secure our borders. We can't have people getting out of prison, picking up their passport and wandering out of the country, for instance - that was clearly the shock of this.

"In some instances I wonder what would have happened had Mr Smith had kept his mouth shut, but he chose to reveal his identity and alert us to where he was."

Epsom electorate MP David Seymour

ACT Party leader David Seymour said changing the system risked undermining due process, civil liberties and privacy. Photo: RNZ / Alexander Robertson

ACT Party leader David Seymour said changing the system would simply be a bureaucratic powergrab based on one person's actions.

"I'm the first person to be tough on criminals and crime, but we actually don't want to throw away due process, civil liberties and privacy in the process, especially if the motivation is simply the result of one outlier black swan incident, no matter how disgusting it may be."

New Zealand First corrections spokesperson Mahesh Bindra said Smith's escape should never have been allowed to happen.

He said the Corrections Minister had to take responsibility over a debacle that he said had made New Zealand the laughing stock of the world.

"And nobody could imagine that a small nation like ours, tucked away in the corner has the risk of these offenders escaping all the way to South America - so this has been a major embarrassment for us as a nation."

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