Government secures wide support for criminal procedure bill

Thursday 15 September 2011, 9:53PM
By Simon Power

The Government has secured broad-based support for the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, and intends to pass it before the election, Justice Minister Simon Power said today.

The bill contains the most significant reforms of criminal procedure in 50 years which will modernise and speed up the criminal justice system.

"I have been negotiating with other political parties over some elements of the bill since it was reported back from the select committee, and I'm delighted I now have broader-based support for it.

"I've gained the support of supply and confidence partners ACT, United Future, and the Maori Party by amending aspects of the bill they were concerned about and have raised with me, and I'd like to thank them for their constructive approach to the negotiations.

"I'd also like to thank Labour's justice spokesperson, Charles Chauvel, who I have worked with throughout this process and who has agreed to recommend these changes to his caucus.

"Discussions with the Green Party are continuing.

"It's my intention to give the bill its second reading in the first week after the recess."

The Government has agreed to make the following changes:

• Remove the 'issues in dispute' provisions from the bill, abandoning the so-called 'Rules Committee' proposal.
• Amend the clause giving the courts the ability to proceed in the absence of the defendant so that the court's discretion is limited to proceeding in procedural hearings, where no determination of guilt or innocence will be made. With regard to substantive hearings, the bill will provide that if the court is satisfied that the defendant has a reasonable excuse for non-attendance the trial must not proceed in the absence of the defendant unless it is satisfied the defendant will not be prejudiced by his or her absence.
• Amend the reference to cost orders to make it clear that cost orders against the defence or defence counsel for unreasonable and significant procedural delay are expected to be used rarely and only for significant procedural non-compliance.
• Lower the jury trial threshold from three years to two years, and remove the ‘exceptional circumstances’ test.
• Remove the word 'substantial' from the 'miscarriage of justice' test.

Mr Power said he was delighted to able to progress the bill.

"This bill is huge in the benefits it contains for victims, witnesses, defendants, and the community.

"It will free up tens of thousands of court sitting hours and thousands of fewer court events each year, and shave weeks off the average time to complete a jury trial.

"This will result in more timely justice for victims and tens of millions of dollars of savings over the next five years,

"No one wants people to wait for up to 16 months for their cases to be heard in the High Court and 12 months in the District Court, and that's what this bill will resolve.

"Do not also forget that it also removes name suppression for celebrities.

“This bill has been a long time in the making, with its origins found in three Law Commission reports published between 2001 and 2005.

“These reports fed into the current project which began in 2007 and involved 16 discussion papers and a draft bill plan being released for consultation with the judiciary and lawyers before the final bill was introduced.”