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Smith: Crèche case shows justice system flaws

Media Statement
For immediate release
Monday, 8 August 2005

Smith: Civic Crèche case shows justice system flaws

The Christchurch Civic Crèche case raises major issues about our adversarial criminal justice system, United Future justice spokesman Murray Smith said today in calling for major changes.

"While there were also serious concerns about the way children's evidence was collected and assessed in that case, the essential problem is that our justice system is not centred on the need to find the truth," Mr Smith said as the select committee report into the case was tabled in Parliament today.

"Every lawyer and judge in the country will tell you that adversarial justice systems, such as the one New Zealand uses, are largely detailed semantic arguments over the precise wording of statutes and whether the police can prove each ingredient of an offence without the defendant contributing.

"Finding the truth is a hopeful by-product of the system but not its central focus. Accordingly, outcomes such as in the Ellis case, which give rise to public doubt, will always occur in an adversarial system," Mr Smith said

That is why the Justice and Electoral Committee has sought an inquiry as to whether the system should change from adversarial one to an inquisitorial one, at least for child sex offences, Mr Smith said,

"It is also why United Future's justice policy seeks a major overhaul of the court system to bring in inquisitorial element for all cases."

Mr Smith said the nub on the committee's response was in a paragraph he had inserted:

"The Ellis case revolved primarily around findings of fact based on the credibility of the children's evidence. However the committee accepts that it is both impossible and undesirable to rehear the evidence in the Ellis case due to lapse of time. The committee therefore considers that the best that can now be achieved is to look to the future in respect of these matters."

The Evidence Bill, in particular, would allow issues relating to the giving of evidence by children to be examined closely, he said.


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