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March 28, 2011 | by  | in Books |
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Garth McVicar on Justice

Salient sits down with Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Garth McVicar about the release of his new book, Justice.

Why have you only now decided to publish this book, and how long has the idea of a book been in the works?

Penguin approached me about eighteen months ago and thought they’d like to see how I felt about doing a book on the journey, and my honest opinion was that I couldn’t see a story in it. They said they thought there was, and we discussed a little bit further and they ended up appointing an author by the name of Michael Larson, who I met and was very comfortable with, he sort of became my tail, followed me around if you want. I haven’t read the whole book but I’ve checked the facts, made sure that things are right, so I plan to go away for a quiet weekend and read it. But I understand it’s a phenomenal read.

From our point of view, it’s another tool, and an opportunity to get rid of some of the misconceptions. When you’re dealing with normal media, it’s all very much soundbite stuff. You get your 30 seconds.

I’d had no training or experience formally, and previously with the media, so it was all off-the-cuff type stuff- it still is. When the media call me I don’t ever say, ‘look, I’ll call you back in ten minutes’, and I don’t go through what I’m going to say. Basically, I know my subject pretty well, some of the things I say might upset some people, but ultimately the organization was designed to get people off the fence anyway, so I don’t mind people who oppose us at all, it doesn’t worry me at all. Because if you’re going to get a debate going, you’ve got to have people who oppose you. But it seems, I’m learning faster that, no matter what I say, there are people who’ll come out and support us, who say ‘look, I’ve heard of you”. The David Garrett affair is a classic one, you know, “I’ve heard of you, I’ve seen you, and now I want to support you”. The book is another opportunity to get that out there, an opportunity to explain a little bit more about what we’re all about and what we’re trying to do.

Justice deals with some very emotive issues. There’s a very brief chapter in the book that comments on your ability to separate feeling from action. Was it difficult to walk the line between documenting the facts, and relaying the plethora of emotions, whether your own or those of the people involved?

Yeah it was very difficult, and I remember sitting with my wife one night, and we were dealing with a couple of horrible tragedies and dealing with the families at the time and I said to my wife, ‘if we let this get on top of us, we won’t be any help to anybody’, so we actually had to find a way of dealing with our emotions. I mean, it still affects us. We’d never get beyond that. We still feel their hurt. But ultimately if you’re going to be effective…and the reason people approach us is because they want change. They’ve been failed by some aspect of the justice system, bail, parole, some issue of the justice system, they’re maybe not allowed to do their victim impact statement, something’s gone wrong in the process, which is the only reason they come to us. So even though we can feel for them, I always say, my first words to the victims we deal with, ‘we can’t do anything about the tragedy that happened, so if you want to be involved with us, we need to know what it is you’d like from us. We can’t help in that particular area, the tragedy’s happened, and something has failed you, and then we can look at how we can constructively deal with that. There’s two issues here, and this may sound a little bit blasé. We’ve got to pigeonhole the emotion. We take it in, absorb it, feel it, and then work out how to constructively deal with the issue. Once you are able to do that, and it’s not easy, to separate the two issues, and the first thing is maybe anger comes in to it at some stage as well, but once you’re able to separate the issues and emotion, and constructively help change whatever it was that failed them, then you’re on track.

Justice is written dually as your story and the story of the SST. Was that because you felt that it would have been better written from your point of view as founder/spokesperson or just impossible to disconnect your centrality to the SST from its history?

If I understand correctly…i think you know what you’re strengths are, and I couldn’t have written the book. We certainly…a lot of our supporters were saying, ‘write a book, write a book’, so I sat down and typed out a couple of chapters, but that was it, you know? It didn’t flow for me, it wasn’t there. And that’s why I probably said to Penguin, I can’t see a story in it, because I couldn’t make it happen so I didn’t see how someone else could, but once they introduced me to Michael, and they convinced me that there was….when you’re sitting down with a guy like Michael and probably yourself and being interviewed, you draw the person out, whereas when you’re going to write it down yourself it just doesn’t seem to flow. I’m really happy with the decision made and I have no reason to doubt that at all.

Yeah, I think it worked well with the format of the book.

Yeah it has, and Michael hasn’t tried to pretend that I’m someone I’m not, and I think that’s pretty important, and as I understand it, there’s a little bit of balance there.

So you feel you’ve been captured pretty honestly?

Yeah, I do. I think he’s done a great job. Absolutely. I got an email from Michael, he’s not sure, he wondered whether it should have been a bigger, but I think ultimately that’s…no I think it’s great what he’s done. Fantastic.

Is there anything specific you hope to achieve with Justice, or anyone in particular that you want this book to reach?

It’s not just Justice. Justice is the issue we want to be focused on. Because I see the role of law and order gives direction of where ultimately your country’s going to end up. So if you’ve got liberal law and order policies that don’t hold people accountable for their actions then in my opinion, you’ll end up with more of the dysfunction. So I see the role of law and order is to give direction of where you country wants to ultimately end up. We focus on the justice system. We see it as sort of the best measuring stick of how society’s performing, as the level of crime, in particular violent crime that you have, so if you’ve got a high violent crime rate, you’ve got dysfunction further down in society, dysfunctional families, that type of thing, and I meant to sort of give evidence of that, you do any research on any of the offenders that we’re dealing with, most of them come from dysfunctional homes, dysfunctional families. So our reason of focusing on the justice system was, if you can get changes at that level you can ultimately change the way society and our country goes. So it was never to me just about changing the justice system, it was about trying to get some boundaries and values and that type of thing back in to society.
What do you find that has been the reaction so far?

Fantastic. You know I do get my fair share of nutters who email me, and I’ll call them nutters, and I mean that because the language they use is just absolutely atrocious. Whereas I never get personal. Everybody’s got a right to their opinion but if you can’t rationally discuss those views then you actually lose the argument, and the people who, the nutters as I call them, who email me have lost the argument before they start. They are abusive, their language is shocking, it’s atrocious, so yeah, we get our fair share of those but I haven’t had any of those email me about the book. There’s one guy who’s attacking us on issues that he goes way back on, he’s using the book to raise his profile but I don’t think he’s read the book, because he hasn’t attacked it. But a lot of support for the book. A couple of judges have emailed me as I said, lawyers have emailed me, there’s a lot of support out there. Some people are saying ‘I’ve seen you, watched you’, and a different perception now of what we do, and that’s what we were hoping it would achieve.

Is that different from how you expected the book to be received?

Look, to be honest I don’t think I had a preconceived idea of what the reaction would be at all. The way I saw it, good bad or otherwise, it was another tool to achieve our ultimate change in direction in legislation. See, this issue that we’re banging on about, the justice system, and law and order, has changed a lot from when we started. When we started there was a liberal philosophy in parliament, down in wellington, and they were even starting to talk about putting murderers out in ankle bracelets, and I saw that legislation drafted. So all the legislation was basically to liberalise the whole justice system even more, and to hold offenders accountable less. So we had to stop that initially and that wasn’t too hard to stop. We were able to stop that legislation going any further, but then you actually had to turn it around and get some legislation that supported victims and started holding offenders accountable. That’s where the sentencing part came in to it. When we started the life sentence for murder was ten years, that was it, and automatic parole at two-thirds of that. So there were a lot of aspects of the law and order thing that we attacked. And we were able to actually move to centre stage somewhat. The ministry of justice, now their whole budget is around victims’ rights and victims’ issues, when it was all around the offenders’ side of the debate. So we moved centre stage, and all the book, in my opinion, was going to achieve was to continue moving that debate, that centre stage a little bit more. It appears it’s certainly done that, but it was only a tool, only one part, one minor part.

Naturally, the SST has had it’s share of controversy and opposition, and many of these issues are dealt with over the course of Justice. But one or two of the more notorious matters, such as the Garret affair, are addressed in greater detail. How did you decide which parts of the SST’s trajectory warranted particular attention/explanation?

Pretty easy really. On any given i day i probably deal with thirteen or fourteen victim issues. Some of them are serious, some of them are just people wanting help, and our network of people within ACC and different areas of the system, we’re able to sort most of those issues out pretty quickly. But when you’re getting that volume of correspondence through, you start to identify where the problems are. So you might be getting, in any given month, you might get seven people contacting you where the offender in their particular case was on bail, so then you start thinking, ‘ok, what’s wrong with the bail act? what’s wrong with the bail legislation?’ so then we start contacting either the defence lawyer in that particular case, or obviously we’re in touch with the victim anyway, so then we’d go to the Crown or the police or whoever we can to try to understand what’s wrong with the bail act. And if you go back to 2007, the Labour government of the day changed the bail act, and they basically changed one word in there, and they said unless there are…I can’t remember the word exactly..

Significant?

Significant was the word they changed, and it meant automatically, from the change when that legislation became law, that a lot more offenders were granted bail. Because your interpretation of significant or mine or the defence’s is totally different. So the judge might deny bail but more and more often we were finding his decision being appealed, and often the appeal was being granted because the defence lawyer had interpreted significantly differently, and who says whether the offender is a significant risk or not? So that meant that all of a sudden the offences on bail escalated as more offenders were getting bailed. So that was how we were able to target that, simply by the sheer number of victims that were contacting us on that issue, same on parole. So that’s how we were able to identify the areas of law that we needed to change. I’m not really sure that I’ve explained it properly but, as soon as a letter comes across our desk, we identify the issue that the victim is having, and it’s put in to the parole file, or the bail file, or the victim impact statement file. We had a women once and her issue was her victim impact statement had been diluted by the officials within the system, so her name just joins all of the other people who have contacted us about the victim impact statements. What we do and how we’ve done things is, we’ll start then writing letters, official information act requests on how did the whole evolution of the victim impact statement debate and legislation evolve, you know, where did it come from. I mean you get a file from the officials on (CAN’T HEAR NEXT PART) and what we’re finding is the more OAAs we do on a particular issue, it seems to alert the minister to that fact that he’s got a problem in that particular area, as i said, it might be bail, it might be the victim impact statements. So you’ve already got the minister on notice that you’re going to be making some issues with that. Then I’d normally go meet with the minister, and then say, ‘this is the number of problems we seem to be getting across our desk anyway on that issue. Are you prepared to put it on your work agenda?’ and that’s how it’s happened.

Does that answer that? Don’t be scared to delve deeper.

I’m more wondering about the big issues that have been covered by the media. How did you decide which of the bigger ones to repeat in the book?

Oh, no I didn’t. Which ones to put in the book? Yeah, no, I didn’t. Michael decided. I don’t know how he decided.

I mean I did an interview this morning right before coming down to see you, and the guy that was interviewing me happened to be friends with the first man that was killed by Graeme Burton, so from his point of view that was a very high profile case and that’s why he wanted to find out why we had picked up and run with that particular case. In that case, the family had contacted us and desperately were in need of help. So that journalist automatically puts that particular case on the top of his profile his agenda, so it gets a little more traction, a little more air time, so that I suppose becomes a high-profile case and is mentioned in the book as well. And it was, a guy who had already murdered, who was released on parole and murdered again, so it deserves to be in the book. And the RSA case, i think probably what Michael has done is look at some of the ones that are shifting centre stage if you want, the legislation like the Sue Couch case which is having a huge impact on the parole system, so probably Michael has picked on some of the ones that are what we’re all about. He took a lot of information, I don’t know how he actually decided.

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Comments (4)

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  1. Tina says:

    Um, so why is this book advertised and titled ‘Justice: Speaking Up for Crime’s Silent Victims’ by Garth McVicar when it is very clearly is ‘Justice: Speaking Up for Crime’s Silent Victims, The Story of Garth McVicar and the Sensible Sentencing Trust’ by Michael Larson?

    The real injustice here is that New Zealand’s news and print media use the SST as the voice of justice in New Zealand. McVicar is a moron.

  2. Denis says:

    Hon CLAYTON COSGROVE: states

    David Garrett, and Garth McVicar putting in place for permanent name suppression, they had gagged a 93-year-old woman and her family from ever speaking out on this crime? Did they consider that they had tortured that family day after day, year after year, as that 93-year-old woman had to watch McVicar, and Garrett gallop around the country calling for zero tolerance? They railed against suppression orders.

    Place, “Garth Mcvicar Child Rape” in Google search engines and read more

  3. Helen says:

    Mcvicar helped Garrett with perjury to cover up his criminal violent convictions while Mcvicar supporting Garrett with a reference during the sentencing for stealing of a dead child and then they gaged that dead childs family.
    Garth Mcvicar like Garrett is a proven liar and cheat low life that uses PTSD victims to make the victims daily lifes hell bent and full of hate.

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