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King: Third reading, Criminal Procedure Bill

20 June, 2008
Third reading, Criminal Procedure Bill

I move that the Criminal Procedure Bill be now read for a third time.

The Criminal Procedure Bill was introduced in June 2004 by my colleague, Hon Phil Goff. It is an omnibus Bill that amends the Crimes Act, the Summary Proceedings Act, the District Courts Act, and the Juries Act. It also creates a new Criminal Disclosure Act.

The overall purpose of the amendments is to maximise efficiency and fairness in the criminal justice system. Victims will benefit from a number of reforms in the Bill.

The Bill responds to Law Commission recommendations and developments overseas. Many of the areas included in this Bill have not seen fundamental reform for many years. The rules have not kept pace with changes in society (including changes in technology) and reform in other common law countries.

Major areas of reform included in the Bill are changes relating to jury trials, exceptions to the double jeopardy rule and reforms to preliminary hearings and disclosure. There are also reforms affecting “middle-band” offences. I will briefly outline some of the key reforms in each of these areas.

Juries

The Bill proposes to introduce 11:1 majority verdicts instead of the current unanimity requirement. There are a number of reasons for this change. It helps to address the problem of rogue jurors, who refuse to participate in deliberations and produce a hung jury for reasons outside the merits of the case.

Another reason is to prevent a single juror from being pressured by the other 11 to return a verdict against his or her conscience. The outcome will therefore be a more honest result. The change will also make jury tampering by bribery or intimidation more difficult for organised criminals to achieve.

As a result all those involved in jury trials, including jurors, witnesses and victims, will benefit.

A large number of amendments are made to the Juries Act 1981 to improve the administration of jury service and recognise the consequences that jury service has on people fulfilling this important role.

In addition to those Juries Act amendments, other reforms in the Crimes Act allow Judge alone trials where the trial is likely to be long and complex and in cases involving juror intimidation. These reforms will ensure fairer trial process and reduce the prospect of people serving as jurors for unreasonably long periods.

Double Jeopardy

The Bill also creates two exceptions to the double jeopardy rule, which currently provides that a person can only be tried once for an offence.

The first exception is where the accused has committed an administration of justice offence that results in his or her acquittal, a “tainted acquittal”. Administration of justice offences includes offences such as perjury, bribery of a judicial officer and fabricating evidence. This change will ensure that those who use such tactics cannot benefit from this wrongdoing.

The second exception is where there is “new and compelling evidence” not available at the time of the first trial that indicates that the accused committed the offence of which he or she was acquitted. If such evidence surfaces after trial and acquittal, the person can be brought to justice.

This exception is subject to a number of safeguards including that it only applies to serious criminal offences such as murder and rape. In addition, the evidence must not have been available at the time of the first trial, the evidence must be reliable, and consent must be sought (from either the Solicitor-General or the Court of Appeal) to proceed to different stages in a case where compelling new evidence is in issue.

The reforms to the double jeopardy rule will benefit victims and society as a whole in ensuring that criminals are brought to justice.

Middle-band offences

An amendment to the Bill added by the Law and Order Committee permits changes to be made to the middle-band offences by way of Order in Council rather than the need for District Courts Act to be amended. This will enable Class A drug offences to be put into the middle band and dealt with by District Courts rather than the High Court. This would ease pressure in the High Court arising from the significant volume of methamphetamine cases.

It should not be assumed that the High Court will send all such cases to the District Courts. I am confident that the High Court will use this power with discretion to ensure that the pressure that exists in the High Court is not simply transferred to the District Courts. Appropriate protocols will need to be developed to ensure this process is administered in a manageable way.

Preliminary Hearings

The third major area of reform is the replacement of oral preliminary hearings with committal on the basis of formal written statements, unless the court orders an oral hearing. These hearings are largely redundant and they require victims and other witnesses to duplicate their court appearances. This, in turn, is stressful and unduly demanding.

As recent cases demonstrate, this is especially so for victims and family members faced with the daunting prospect of having to recount painful experiences at a trial, having already been required to do so at a preliminary hearing.

The Bill provides a standard pre-jury trial procedure under which the parties present their evidence in the form of written statements, with automatic committal for trial unless either party applies for an oral hearing.

We are all aware that this Bill has had a protracted journey from introduction to its final reading. However, the Government SOP developed in consultation with my colleagues in the National party has paved the way to successfully progressing this legislation.

The amendments effected by the SOP give the parties the right to make oral submissions in support of an application for an oral evidence order. Further, it requires the new committal process in the Bill to be reviewed by the Solicitor-General, or a nominated person, as soon as practicable after it has been in operation for 2 years.

Criminal Disclosure

To complement the removal of preliminary hearings, the Bill creates a new Criminal Disclosure Act which provides a comprehensive regime of prosecution pre-trial disclosure in criminal proceedings. This single and easily accessible statute will replace the current arrangements where prosecution pre-trial disclosure is regulated by a mixture of case law and statutory rules under the Official Information and Privacy Acts.

I would like to thank the Law Commission for its work in this area. I would also like to thank the Law and Order Committee who considered this Bill, and those who made submissions on the Bill to that Committee.

I look forward to this Bill enhancing the efficient management of criminal proceedings, while ensuring maximum fairness for everyone involved.

I am pleased to commend this Bill to the House.

ENDS

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