NZ Needs Reforms To Handle Miscarriages of Justice
New Zealand Needs Legal Reforms To Handle Miscarriage of Justice Cases, Says Report
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Establishing a Miscarriages of Justice Authority is a priority says ADLS
There have recently been a number of public claims in New Zealand that innocent persons have been wrongly convicted and imprisoned.
These claims raise an important question: “Does the New Zealand justice system do enough to identify and correct miscarriages of justice?”
Work by highly-respected former prosecutor and High Court Judge Sir Thomas Thorp has concluded that New Zealand should implement reforms similar to those adopted in Scotland and England.
Auckland District Law Society supports this proposal, and calls on Justice Minister Annette King to create an independent authority to deal with miscarriages of justice in New Zealand, as recommended by Sir Thomas Thorp.
There are four main reasons for this:
First - it is clear that miscarriages of justice do occur in New Zealand. While precise figures are not available, it is clear from DNA evidence and other means that innocent people are sometimes convicted by the New Zealand justice system. While the numbers are not high, the consequences of wrongful conviction are serious for the individuals concerned, for the community, and for the integrity of the justice system. Sir Thomas estimates that unless New Zealand’s error rate is dramatically lower than in England or Scotland, it is probable that up to 20 people are currently wrongfully imprisoned in New Zealand.
Second - our current system is inadequate. The system is poorly-equipped to deal with factual inquiries, it lacks independence from the Ministry of Justice, it is inadequately resourced, and it does not have sufficient confidence among the legal profession or convicted persons.
Third - those most likely to suffer from the inadequacies of our present system are the least-privileged members of society. Sir Thomas’s research shows that while Maori and Pacific Island people comprise over 60 per cent of the prison population they make only 11 per cent of claims of wrongful conviction. The most likely reason is that those ethnic groups have the least confidence that the justice system will give them justice.
Fourth - experience in the United Kingdom, particularly Scotland, shows it is possible to create an efficient and effective system at relatively low cost. At an annual cost of approximately NZ$3.5 million, the Scottish Criminal Cases Review Commission deals with approximately 120 cases a year. The Scottish prison population is broadly similar to New Zealand’s and, after seven years’ operation, the Scottish Commission has developed systems to allow it to operate efficiently and robustly.
Auckland District Law Society encourages readers to obtain a copy of Sir Thomas’s report, Miscarriages of Justice, published by the Legal Research Foundation in December 2005, to read a full discussion of these points which is available at the Law Society Store or online at www.adls.org.nz