The Government is reviving the Three Strikes legislation Labour scrapped two years ago. 1News breaks down what the law means and why some aren't happy to see it back.

National and ACT are pressing ahead with their plans to bring back Three Strikes legislation as detailed in their coalition agreement.

That agreement promised to restore the legislation with some amendments. This week, the Government revealed its plans for that revised legislation.

So, what is a Three Strikes law? Why did Labour scrap the last version of it? And what do people think of such laws now?

A 101 guide to Three Strikes laws

Three Strikes laws are used worldwide. Generally, the laws set out lengthy, mandatory sentences for certain repeat offenders.

The John Key-led government introduced the Sentencing and Parole Reform Act in 2010, which set out New Zealand's first attempt at Three Strikes legislation.

Forty offences, including murder, attempted murder, manslaughter, sexual violation, abduction, and aggravated robbery, qualified for "strikes".

If a person was convicted of one of these offences for the first time, they received an official strike warning at their sentencing.

If they were convicted of a second qualifying offence, they were given a second — and final — warning and imprisoned for a full sentence without the chance of parole.

If the person then committed a third qualifying offence, they would automatically receive the maximum prison sentence without parole, unless the court determined it would be "manifestly unjust".

Proponents of Three Strikes laws say they serve two purposes — to deter people from committing specific crimes, and locking up offenders who keep repeating these crimes regardless of the increased punishments.

Why did Labour repeal the first Three Strikes law?

The previous Labour government repealed the legislation in 2022 for several reasons.

It said there was little evidence the law had reduced serious offending.

A Ministry of Justice paper from 2018 said international studies on the effectiveness of Three Strikes laws were mixed. There was also little research on the effectiveness of New Zealand's Three Strikes law, given how long it took for offenders to reach a third strike.

"There have been no studies conducted on whether New Zealand's three strikes law reduces crime, although observations of crimes targeted by the law do not appear to demonstrate any obvious effects," the evidence brief said.

Meanwhile, the Labour government said the Three Strikes law restricted a judge's ability to consider circumstances and context when sentencing an offender. It also cited concerns around Māori being over-represented in those receiving a strike.

Labour said the courts were still able to impose tough prison sentences, like life without parole, without the Three Strikes law in place.

Labour also pointed to Three Strikes sentences that had been found to contravene the Bill of Rights Act, such as a man who received a maximum sentence of seven years in prison after his third "strike" crime of kissing a stranger in the street.

Then-Justice Minister Kiri Allan said repealing the Three Strikes law ended "an anomaly in New Zealand's justice system".

"The Three Strikes law was a knee-jerk reaction to crime by the former National-ACT coalition government that resulted in disproportionate and excessive sentences, when compared to the seriousness of the offence and the harm caused," she said.

A new version of the Three Strikes law

Now, National and ACT are back in government and reviving the Three Strikes law, albeit with some changes.

The law will cover the same 40 serious offences as last time, plus the new strangulation and suffocation offence. However, this time there will be a new requirement that the law only applies to prison sentences longer than two years.

The use of the "manifestly unjust" exception will be extended to "avoid very harsh outcomes and address outlier cases".

The revised regime will also offer a limited benefit for guilty pleas, said Associate Justice Minister Nicole McKee.

"We are making changes to create a more workable regime and also to address issues that arose under the previous law, such as capturing minor offending," she said.

McKee said she intends to have the draft bill before Cabinet by the end of June.

Mixed feelings over Three Strikes

Louise Nicholas, an advocate for survivors of sexual violence, told Breakfast earlier this month that a Three Strikes law was a good thing for the community if it can be a deterrent for crime.

"When the Three Strikes law was there ... our survivors were saying, 'Good, this needs to happen because we don't want this person back out in the community reoffending'," she said.

"If you're [going to] continuously hurt people then expect to do the time, it's as simple as that."

Criminologist Roger Brooking disagreed, telling Breakfast such laws didn't work.

He said offenders "don't make rational decisions and think about the consequences".

Labour's Carmel Sepuloni also said the Three Strikes law was a waste of resources.

"We need to be looking at initiatives and policies that actually work to reduce crime. This is not one of them," she said.

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