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Goff introduces Evidence Bill

Hon Phil Goff - Minister of Justice

3 May 2005

Goff introduces Evidence Bill

Decades of judicial decisions and reforms of statutes have been brought together in an Evidence Bill introduced to Parliament today by Justice Minister Phil Goff.

The Bill generally follows the recommendations of the Law Commission, which spent 10 years researching and consulting on the law before reporting to the government.

"Current evidence law is largely common law, comprising decisions made by judges in response to the particular set of facts before the court. Statutory provisions dealing with evidence have also been reformed on a piecemeal basis since evidence legislation was first passed in 1908, Mr Goff said.

"The resulting complexity and inconsistency of evidence law results in undue legal argument, expense, and delays due to arguments over admissibility of evidence.

"This Bill combines statute and case law into one comprehensive scheme, which will help to ensure that proceedings are determined in a just fashion by:

- Providing for facts to be established by the application of logical rules;
- Promoting fairness to parties and witnesses;
- Protecting rights of confidentiality and other important public interests; and,
-Avoiding unjustifiable expense and delay.

"The Bill has over 200 clauses. It is an important but legally technical piece of legislation rather than being partisan in nature. I look forward to the fullest input possible from the law profession, submitters interested in evidence law, and the committee itself during the Bill's Select Committee stage.

"The Bill's fundamental principle is that all relevant evidence is admissible unless there is some policy reason to exclude it. Evidence must be excluded if it is irrelevant, if its probative value is outweighed by its prejudicial effect, or if it would needlessly prolong a proceeding.

"The Bill covers such as matters as:

- Rules of admissibility, including matters such as hearsay, opinion evidence, improperly obtained evidence and propensity evidence;

- Privilege and confidentiality, such as privilege covering legal advisers and ministers of religion, and privilege against self-incrimination. It also provides a protection for confidential information;

- The trial process, including compellability of witnesses, support persons, rules around questioning witnesses, alternative ways of giving evidence, and the admissibility of documentary and machine-generated evidence; and,

- Rules for giving evidence from overseas to a New Zealand court and evidence given in New Zealand to be used overseas.

Mr Goff said that among the matters in the Bill that submitters to the Select Committee might wish to give attention to, were:

- Reform of the hearsay rule to allow a defendant’s out-of-court statements to be admissible against co-defendants. Evidence in this regard will either be admissible against all defendants in a particular case or none at all.

- A proposed truthfulness rule that allows evidence to be admissible if it is substantially helpful in assessing that person’s truthfulness (with additional special rules for the defendant).

- Narrowing the right to remain silent when a reply would lead to self-incrimination, so that it can only be used to avoid criminal prosecution, and not liability for a civil penalty.

ENDS

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