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Goff Says Jury Changes On The Way

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice
Media Statement

27 February 2001


Justice Minister Phil Goff has praised the Law Commission report 'Juries in Criminal Trials' saying that its recommendations will shortly be considered by
Cabinet and will result in draft legislative changes.

"The report is well researched and offers constructive changes which would improve jury trials in New Zealand. Some of the changes requiring legislation are controversial and would therefore need to be subject to close scrutiny and examination at the Select Committee stage.

The Minister welcomes the recommendation of procedural changes designed to make evidence easier for jurors to understand. These include increased use of written and visual aids and more explanation to jurors about the case they are hearing, including the notes of evidence given to the court.

"Some of the procedures for jurors are stuck in the 19th century and need to come into the modern age. It is important that jurors received adequate information about their role and be presented with evidence in a form they can readily comprehend. The proposed changes will provide a structure that will facilitate proper decision making in the jury room.

"I agree with the general thrust of the proposed changes and personally believe that the time has come for the principle of 11:1 majority verdicts to be accepted in New Zealand," said Mr Goff.

Among the proposals that would require legislative change are -

„h Majority verdicts of 11:1

Majority verdicts reduce the risk of hung juries, which have grown in number in recent years averaging around 12% in the High Court and 7-8% in the District Court. "Retrials occasioned by one dissenting juror pose major personal, emotional and financial costs on all those involved in the process," said the Minister.

"Majority verdicts help resolve the issue of the so-called 'rogue' juror who refuses to participate in the deliberation and bases his or her view on a preconceived prejudice or sympathy. Not all jurors supporting a minority view come into this category. Some have well-founded concerns but the requirement of a 11:1 majority for a verdict is still a very high threshold," said Mr Goff.

The Minister said while it is not an obvious problem in New Zealand, majority verdicts lessen the likelihood of jury tampering.

„h Trial without a jury

Some cases are of such a long or technical nature that juries struggle to cope with the mass of information, resulting in confusion and a threat to the quality of their decision.

"Providing the flexibility to allow any trial taking longer than six calender weeks be considered for trial by judge alone has merit. However I would want to see careful scrutiny of this proposal before a Select Committee. We would certainly want safeguards to protect the rights of the accused to trial by jury" Mr Goff said.

The Minister says he will put the Commission's recommendations before cabinet. After cabinet consideration legislation will be drafted with the aim of being introduced next year.

"The Bill would then go through the normal processes of scrutiny by a Select Committee with consideration of public submissions before it will pass in its final form into law," said Mr Goff.


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