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Bill to improve fairness efficiency of proceedings

Hon Phil Goff
Minister of Justice

1 July 2004

Media Statement

Bill to improve fairness, efficiency of proceedings

The Criminal Procedures Bill, which had its first reading in Parliament today, will allow criminal proceedings to be more efficiently managed, while ensuring maximum fairness for everyone involved, says Justice Minister Phil Goff.

"The Bill makes changes to jury trials, introduces exceptions to the double jeopardy rule, and reforms preliminary hearings. It is the result of reforms that the government has been working on since 2001, and responds to Law Commission recommendations and developments overseas," Mr Goff said.

"The Bill introduces 11 to 1 majority verdicts in place of unanimous verdicts.

"This will address the problem of 'rogue' jurors, who produce a hung jury for reasons that have nothing to do with the merits of the case; make jury tampering more difficult, and it allow a single juror to register dissent with a verdict rather than go along with a decision against his or her conscience.

"While the majority verdict reform will attract comment, it is not radical. The United Kingdom, for example, has had 10:2 majority verdicts since 1967.

"The Bill also provides for judge-alone trials for complex cases likely to take longer than a month, and where there is evidence of juror intimidation, which from time to time has been an issue in gang-related cases.

"Recently the government announced a $9 million boost to juror fees. This Bill contains further measures to make it easier to serve on juries, including the ability to defer service for up to 12 months to a more convenient time.

"It will also become an offence for employers to prejudice the position of an employee summoned for jury service. At the same time, the penalty for failing to answer a summons will increase from $300 to $1000.

"The Bill creates two exceptions to the double jeopardy rule, for tainted acquittal and compelling new evidence cases, which is consistent with law in the UK, and reforms proposed in Australia.

"The first exception will apply if an acquitted person is later found guilty of committing perjury or intimidating a witness during the first trial. This will ensure that those who resort to such tactics cannot benefit from their own wrongdoing.

"The second exception relates to compelling new evidence. 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.

"Safeguards will be introduced to protect against any misuse of this exception. 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.

"Police will not be about to reinvestigate an acquitted person without consent from the Solicitor-General; the Solicitor-General, and then Court of Appeal, must then be satisfied that new and compelling evidence of guilt exists and that a retrial is in the interests of justice. Finally, there can be only one retrial.

"The exceptions are not retrospective, so acquittals obtained before the legislation commences will remain intact. However I welcome submissions on that; on whether the 14-year threshold captures the right offences, and whether tainted acquittal exceptions should apply when a third party perverted a trial.

"The third major reform in this Bill involves evidence being presented in written form at preliminary hearings, with automatic committal, unless either party applies for an oral hearing and the court agrees it is appropriate.

"These changes make it important that 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 will have limited disclosure obligations in relation to alibis and expert witnesses," Mr Goff said.

ENDS

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