Tena koe Mr Speaker.
The Maori Party, as the newest political party in this Chamber, is always happy to share our experience of the innovations and initiatives that we have drawn on, in establishing ourselves as the proud and independent Maori voice of Parliament.
One development that we are very proud of, is the effectiveness of tangata whenua processes to achieve consensus, the outcome of kotahitanga.
Kotahitanga is the principle of unity; of purpose and direction. It is demonstrated in an environment where all are encouraged to make a contribution, to have their say and then together a consensus is reached.
All decisions of our Electorate Council, of our National Council, of our annual hui, are defined as being made by consensus. Candidates are selected by consensus; consensus is our mode of operating.
Consensus also helps to build whakawhänaungatanga. It honours whanau decision-making processes where collective action is strengthened, and progress is made towards attracting commitment.
It’s not an easy option by any means. People don’t necessarily agree with the outcome, but they may agree to support it, being satisfied that it was the best decision that the group could make at that time.
The process of building consensus requires active participation, it demands respect, it stimulates debate; it takes time.
The path of true democracy never runs smoothly, but it ends with a sound basis for moving forward into the future.
For consensus means all shades of the arguments are heard – not just the majority view – the winner – or the minority view – the loser. The creation of a majority implies the creation of a minority.
The process of consensus has a precedent handed down by our tipuna. Decisions were never made by a majority of rangatira or ariki as leaders – hui were held amongst whanau, collective responsibility achieved – the group’s interests riding over those of the individual.
And so it was, with, that we in the Maori Party came to the Criminal Procedure Bill, knowing, understanding and appreciating a concept which could have been crucial in promoting the rights, responsibilities and obligations of offenders and victims in the justice process.
But instead we were confronted with the proposal to trial by judge instead of jury. Rather than encouraging community involvement and ownership of the justice system, the Bill puts in place the means by which the judge can dispense with a jury.
The right to be heard by a jury is one of the corner-stones of our current legal system. It isn’t perfect by any means, but having a public trial in front of a jury of your peers is a public benefit as well as a private benefit.
The other related proposal is the introduction of a majority decision over an unanimous verdict. Such a proposal flies in the face of consensus, compromising on the principles of social justice by removing the need for listening and for dialogue.
It is greatly disappointing to see the justice sector resort to settling for mediocrity – rather than taking on the challenge of the consensus process.
The majority verdict is another way of saying we will just accept the fact that consensus couldn’t be achieved. It is another example of the ‘make-do’ mentality, rather than striving to work through the differences and arrive at a verdict that everyone can sit with.
Section 17 of the Juries Act states that ‘every jury shall comprise twelve jurors’, but says nothing on the explicit numerical balance required to support a verdict.
With this Bill, we are now being presented with a possibility of eleven to one majority verdicts, like in some Australian and United Kingdom jurisdictions.
There is no doubt that a unanimous verdict requires far more certainty than a majority verdict.
But there is plenty of doubt as to the rationale for such a fundamental change to the legal system.
Is it to do with the fact that roughly 8.2% of jury trials that end in a hung trial?
Is it to do with dealing to the so-called ‘rogue juror’ – the jury member, who no matter how persuasive the evidence, can not entertain changing his or her mind.
Is it an incentive to prevent corruption or jury tampering?
Is it to do with the fact that we only believe in juries when the verdict they arrive at is the one we agree with, because someone has to be found guilty?
Or is it because our desire to find someone guilty has overwhelmed an accused person's right to the benefit of the doubt?
The really distressing thing about the context of an omnibus bill, is that some very worthwhile ideas which we in the Maori Party could support, are promoted within the greater framework of the Bill, with the hope that the less favourable aspects will not be revealed.
All of the publicity around the Criminal Procedure Bill has focused on the initiative to allow depositions to occur based on written evidence rather than a preliminary oral hearing.
The effect of this development is that victims of crime are not being forced to go through the oral depositions process as well as submitting written evidence.
For many victims who appear before the Court, the impact of giving evidence twice, adds a whole new level of trauma to the reporting of violence and criminal offending.
We in the Maori Party absolutely support such a proposal and believe it will have many positive effects.
Written depositions would not only introduce a layer of compassion and fairness for victims of crime, but also enhance administrative efficiency and makes for a more effective use of policy and judicial resources.
The Maori Party is happy to support any moves to prevent the persecution of victims on the stand, which in effect feels as if they are being brutalized all over again, this time by the legal system itself.
And so we supported SOP 206, which paves the way for an oral submission to be heard before the Judge, or the other party.
But we are cognizant also, of the advice of Geoff Vause, a Wellington advocate for Victim Support.
Geoff suggests that the criminal justice system itself is at a point of collapse, finding that the adversarial system is being bogged down in process.
Vause makes out a case that adversarial justice leaves judges with a narrow range of sentencing options, leading to a filling up of even more jails. His parting shot, and I quote, is that:
“The community is demanding to see justice done with transparency, consistency and reliability”.
Now that is not a lot to ask for, one would think.
And perhaps we could just add in there, in pursuit of kotahitanga, collective responsibility and ownership.
We are disappointed that the Criminal Procedure Bill has lowered the standards in terms of settling for majority verdicts, and enabling trials by judge rather than jury.
Although there is overwhelming support for the Bill, we will not be supporting this Bill.