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Criminal Procedure Bill Wrong - And Right

Criminal Procedure Bill Wrong - And Right

ACT New Zealand Justice Spokesman Stephen Franks today said the Criminal Procedure Bill, which sets out to replace unanimous jury verdicts with majority verdicts, will also erode safeguards against wrongful convictions.

"I welcome some of the changes, but others could erode key rights protecting defendants if the establishment decides to gang up," Mr Franks said.

"The prosecution's ability to get a judge-alone trial, instead of a jury trial, by alleging a threat of intimidation, is an ability that could be misused.

"Intimidation should be dealt with by making the penalty not worth it. The defendant who benefits from perverting justice should get the penalty they'd have got upon conviction, and then some.

"If Justice Minister Phil Goff were truly serious about dealing to offenders who corrupt justice he would have got rid of the so-called `right to silence' that lets criminals' make their lawyers peddle fanciful theories to a jury, safe from being cross-examined.

"The risks with majority verdicts are worth running. The end of the right to a jury trial in complex and lengthy cases - and where the prosecution alleges threatened intimidation - will be tempting for the justice authorities where they think a jury might refuse to convict.

"Jury involvement has been a safeguard with unpopular law, or where the jury thinks the Government is abusing prosecution power. These possibilities are justification for protecting the ancient right to a trial by one's peers, rather than only by a Government-appointed judge.

"The end to sequestration of juries until they've reached a verdict might increase the number of hung juries and appeals alleging tampering with a jury, plus negate the gains intended by allowing majority verdicts.

"Real jury reform would see juries given the power to ban an offender from receiving parole, or even to set the sentence. When judges will not give out the maximum sentence to a criminal, perhaps 11 out of 12 representative citizens will," Mr Franks said.

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