A bill to axe the contentious "three strikes" sentencing law passed its third reading in Parliament on Tuesday.
The Three Strikes Legislation Repeal Bill, which aimed to scrap the law, was supported by Labour, the Greens and Te Pāti Māori, while National and ACT voted against it.
Justice Minister Kiri Allan said it marked an end to "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."
The repeal comes five years after Labour promised to ditch the law in 2017 but efforts to do so were blocked by then-coalition partner NZ First.
The Sentencing and Parole Act 2010, widely known as the three strikes law, imposed a mandatory prison sentence of seven years for individuals who committed a third "strike" or violent offence. The legislation was intended to deter people from serious or repeat offending by threatening increasingly strict sentences.
But the Justice Minister said the lack of discretion allowed by judges under the law meant they could not account for the seriousness or circumstances of the offending when considering sentencing.
“The High Court, Court of Appeal and Supreme Court have found sentences imposed under the regime have breached the Bill of Rights Act.”
However, Allan said there were no plans to reconsider the prison terms of those previously sentenced under the law.
Allan emphasised serious and repeat offenders would still face severe sentences, just under standard sentencing processes. Judges will still be able to impose the maximum penalty for serious offences, but are not bound by law to do so.
"Repealing the three strikes law will revert the sentencing process for strike offences to standard sentencing processes. Despite claims from the opposition, this does not mean people who commit serious and repeat offending will stop receiving severe sentences."
Political parties react
National and ACT, who voted against Tuesday's bill to repeal three strikes, have both criticised the Government for being "out of touch".
"By repealing the Three Strikes legislation, the Government has sent a strong message that criminals will be less accountable for repeated criminal acts," said National's justice spokesperson Paul Goldsmith.
ACT's justice spokesperson Nicole McKee said the bill was an example of Labour valuing "ideology over safe communities".
“With record ram raids terrorising people up and down the country, Labour’s big message to young offenders is giving an early Christmas present to the worst murderers, robbers and rapists in the country."
ACT has pledged to reinstate the three strikes law within their first 100 days in power if they are elected to Government.
On the other side of the political aisle, the Greens welcomed the repeal of three strikes, calling it a "hangover from National and ACT’s failed American-style approach to justice.
"Taking away the court’s ability to consider the circumstances of offending, public interest and even rehabilitation, was a shameful measure that past politicians used to look ‘tough’ regardless of the consequences for people’s lives," said the Green Party justice spokesperson Golriz Ghahraman.
But Gharahman said the bill "doesn't go far enough", with Labour rejecting a Greens bid to allow judges to reconsider past three strike offenders' sentences.
"It is incredibly frustrating that the Government has not shown the courage to ensure that this law change addresses the harm already done," she said.
“We know that three strikes has disproportionately impacted Māori, Pasifika, and other communities of colour, as well as those with mental health and addiction issues, and brain injuries."
The repeal will officially take place once the bill receives Royal assent.