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Criminal Procedures Bill introduced

Hon Phil Goff Minister of Justice

22 June 2004

Criminal Procedures Bill introduced

Justice Minister Phil Goff today introduced the Criminal Procedures Bill, which will improve the efficiency of preliminary hearings in criminal courts; make changes to the jury system, and introduce two exceptions to the law of double jeopardy.

Mr Goff said most of the changes in the Bill implemented recommendations made by the Law Commission.

"Under the Bill, committal proceedings will involve the prosecution presenting evidence in written form only, unless the defence applies for an oral hearing and the court believes it is necessary in order to judge whether there is sufficient evidence to commit to trial," Mr Goff said.

"Depositions hearings currently take about 5700 sitting hours of District Court time per year. In the last three years, 92 to 93 per cent of defendants were committed to trial following a preliminary hearing. This means in most cases the Police have collected sufficient evidence against alleged offenders and that prosecutors have satisfied the court that there is a prima facie case.

"Automatic committals will therefore appropriately streamline proceedings, better utilise court resources, reduce undue delays, and save witnesses and victims the stress of making multiple appearances in the majority of cases.

"These changes make it important that all defendants are given details of the case against them, and in a timely manner. Under this Bill, the prosecution must, within 21 days, disclose all relevant information. Defendants have limited disclosure obligations in relation to alibis and expert witnesses."

"The duty of disclosure will be enforceable by the courts, which may also issue timetabling orders for both 'initial disclosure' before any plea is made and 'full disclosure' after a guilty plea or election for trial by jury."

Mr Goff said the changes introduced by the Bill to the jury system and to the rule of double jeopardy had previously been announced.

"Majority (11 to 1) verdicts will replace unanimous verdicts to reduce the prospect of hung juries where a decision cannot be reached. Judge-only trials will be permitted for a small number of long and technically complex trials.

"People will be able to defer jury service for up to 12 months to a time that fits better with other responsibilities; jury districts will also be increased in size to capture a wider base and therefore reduce the likely frequency of selection, and more flexibility will be applied to the sequestering of jurors.

"At the same time, sanctions are required for summons evaders, and the penalty for evading jury duty will increase from $300 to $1000. It will also become an offence for employers to prejudice the position of an employee because of jury service.

"Protection against possible juror intimidation will be increased by restricting the distribution of juror lists, and allowing for judge-only trials where there is evidence that jurors have been or may be intimidated.

"The changes to double jeopardy will allow for the retrial of people who have been convicted of perjury or intimidating a witness during an earlier trial, and for the retrial of cases where there is new and compelling evidence of guilt established after a person has been acquitted of a serious offence.

"Safeguards will be introduced to protect against any misuse of the State's ability to use the exception covering new evidence. It will only apply to serious crimes carrying a maximum penalty of 14 years or more imprisonment; the evidence must not have been discoverable through better investigation before the first trial, and it must strongly suggest guilt.

First the Solicitor-General, and then Court of Appeal, must be satisfied that new and compelling evidence of guilt exists and that a retrial would be in the interests of justice. Finally, there can be only one retrial.

"Double jeopardy is a long-standing rule designed to ensure the Crown does not use its disproportionate resources to subject an individual to repeated prosecutions for an offence for which he or she had already been acquitted.

"However, not to be able to hold somebody accountable for a crime in the face of compelling evidence of guilt represents a major injustice to any victims, and potentially undermines public confidence in the justice system," Mr Goff said.


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