Revamp of guidelines for meth sentencing welcomed

The New Zealand Bar Association welcomes the Court of Appeal decision in Zhang v R, which gives detailed guidance on sentencing people convicted of offences related to the importation, manufacture and supply of methamphetamine. 

The court accepted submissions by both the New Zealand Bar Association and the New Zealand Law Society that rather than solely focusing on the quantity of meth involved, there should be greater focus on the role of the offender. 

James Rapley QC, who led the submissions for the NZBA, notes that this is a significant change to the way that offenders are sentenced. In the past offenders with relatively low level of blame and responsibility for a meth crime have had to be sentenced to prison time. This was because a previous Court of Appeal decision, R v Fatu, introduced a series of sentencing bands that equated blame to the quantity of methamphetamine involved in the offending, and whether the offending related to supply, importation or manufacture. 

“Courts now have a greater flexibility when sentencing for this kind of offending, and judges can now take into account a range of personal factors in drug sentencing and consider more rehabilitative sentencing options,” says Mr Rapley. “This is important because it reflects a greater awareness that methamphetamine addiction is a serious health concern that cannot be addressed by traditional ways of punishment.”

Mr Rapley cautions against people seeing this judgment as going easy on drug offending. “The decision is about assessing the real culpability in each case and it reflects the need to find more effective ways of dealing with serious drug offending. Those who are involved at the very top levels, where there is commerciality, involvement by organised crime or exploitation of others, will still be dealt with severely and receive lengthy terms of imprisonment.”

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