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Bury Law Commission Report on Courts

Bury Law Commission Report on Courts

ACT New Zealand Courts Spokesman Stephen Franks today urged Labour to ignore much of the Law Commission's `vision' for the courts, just as it have ignored so many other Commission reports in the past.

"It has some sensible suggestions, but many drippy ones. The latter could make what's already wrong even worse. Adult courts may get the failed touchy feely features of youth justice's family group conferencing," Mr Franks said. "

"Judges must stop apologising for doing justice. They should be happy to intimidate offenders. Instead the `vision's' cultural sensitivity could make judges more obsequious.

Parts of the report that should be quietly forgotten include:

• more name suppression, and keeping the secrecy rules which hide the poor performance of the Youth and Family courts

• a new State agency to give `initial legal advice'. It will evolve into a new monster, like legal aid, in response to complaints that there is a gap when the `initial' phase is over

• new rights to free legal advice after arrest, going past the existing police obligation to tell people they are entitled to contact a lawyer

• more `diversity training' and interpreters, to make courts more reflective of Maori culture, and improve `access' to justice for other ethnic minorities, and the disabled

• new rights for `kaumatua' and `friends' to speak, instead of lawyers, which will encourage troublesome litigants in person, and force the courts to hand feed them

• expanded legal aid entitlements, without addressing the injustice to people sued by an aided litigant, who get no cost contribution when they win

• restricting the right to trial by jury to offences punishable by more than 5 years, instead of deterring offenders with bigger sentences after an unsuccessful jury trial

• Beefing up the Maori Land Court, instead of getting rid of it to ensure Maori get the equal justice they were promised by the Treaty, under a rule of predictable law

The new Community Courts give the flavour. These `Peoples' Courts' will be one-stop resource shops responsive to the `needs' of `those they serve'. Eighty percent of those they serve are criminals and their families. They may be `alienated, disempowered, confused or frustrated', but the report cites only anecdote and assumption to back its recommendations:

• Be `flexible in the way it deals with the needs of different individuals and cultures' and able to `dedicate more time to each defendant'

• Involve `whanau/families or other support groups in its processes' and involve `the community in developing effective processes at the courthouse ...providing registry services appropriate to the local cultural and social makeup, and that are responsive to change'

They are to have consultation groups and full-time community liaison officers, to build formal relationships with each community's resuscitated tribal apparatus. Because the new court will `inevitably affect a high proportion of the Maori population', procedures are to allow `whanau to engage in cultural practices like karakia, and korero' and reduce a `feeling of isolation both for the person appearing, and the whanau'.

"Duty solicitors will `need more time to liaise with clients' so they can `take account of te reo, and tikanga' and make whanau more `aware of the provisions that allow cultural factors to be taken into account by the court'. The court may have to allocate `more time per appearance if this korero is to be effective'.

"Nowhere is the obvious question asked: `what is the evidence that these cultural features will improve the outcomes from our justice system, when the culture is associated with high crime and social decay figures?'

"Did the Commission test the possibility that the courts are already too accommodating and user-friendly to the high crime people? Perhaps people in low crime groups find the courts to be a horrible experience, and decide not to repeat it," Mr Franks said.

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