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Biggest reform of criminal procedure in 50 years passes

Hon Simon Power
Minister of Justice

4 October 2011
Media Statement

Biggest reform of criminal procedure in 50 years passes

Justice Minister Simon Power today welcomed Parliament’s passage of the omnibus Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill which is a milestone in efforts to put the right to a timely trial back at the heart of the criminal justice system.

“New Zealand’s key criminal procedure laws date back to the 1950s and have been subject to years of ad hoc reform,” Mr Power said.

“Until now the outdated and cumbersome system may have been working well from the perspective of those who earned a living from it, but it has been failing those who found themselves in it through no fault of their own.

“This bill changes all that. It modernises and speeds up the criminal justice system and ensures more timely justice for victims, witnesses, defendants, and the community.

“This bill has been a decade in the making and I’m confident it strikes the right balance between time and cost savings and preserving a defendant’s right to a fair trial.”

Specifically, the bill will:

• Require parties to progress their cases as far as possible before appearing before a judge.
• Streamline procedural steps to remove unnecessary appearances so cases progress more quickly.
• Require the defence and prosecution to meet before trial to discuss what issues, if any, they can agree on before trial. The outcome of the discussion must be recorded in the case management memorandum.
• Raise the jury trial threshold from offences carrying a sentence of more than three months’ imprisonment to offences carrying a penalty of a term of imprisonment of two years or more.
• Allow greater flexibility to continue with a trial when jury numbers fall to 10.
• Introduce incentives and sanctions to encourage parties to comply with procedural requirements, including costs orders against parties for significant procedural failure.
• Clarify that the court can proceed in the absence of a defendant only if the court is satisfied certain conditions are met. This reflects current practice.
• Clarify and strengthen laws around suppression of names and evidence, including that there is no presumption of extreme hardship solely on the ground that the defendant is well known or famous.
• Introduce higher penalties for the publication of suppressed information to include fines of up to $100,000 for a body corporate and a maximum term of imprisonment of six months for someone who knowingly or recklessly publishes suppressed information.

Mr Power said the reforms have the potential to free up more than 9,000 court sitting hours each year (or about 13% of the current total effort in the criminal jurisdiction) by delivering benefits which include:

• 36,650 fewer court events.
• 230-450 fewer jury trials.
• Shaving 6-9 weeks off the average time it takes to complete a jury trial (currently 16 months in the High Court and 12 months in the District Court).
• $22.4 million in savings over five years.

Mr Power said parts of the Criminal Procedure legislation will be implemented early next year, including the changes to suppression laws. However, many of the changes will not take effect until 2013 to allow the justice sector time to make the necessary changes to support the new processes, ensure staff and other court users are trained, and to develop the necessary court rules.

“This bill will provide an enduring legislative framework for criminal procedure and will ultimately enhance public confidence in the justice system.”

Mr Power said the passage of the bill is an important part of a wider work programme to further speed up case disposal rates, improve customer service, and enhance the justice sector’s capability to respond to future demands.

These reforms, many of which have already begun, include:

• Improving the quality and affordability of the legal aid system.
• Increasing the use of technology, including expanding the use of court audio visual links, and replacing paper court records and case files with electronic filing and management.
• Putting more effective enforcement measures in place for the collection of fines and reparation.
• Overhauling victims’ rights.
• Improving the way child witnesses are treated in the criminal justice system.
• Developing new delivery models for some court services, such as making greater use of call centres and online processes.
• Reviewing prosecution services and the Family Court.

ENDS

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