January 22, 2004
Jury trial changes planned
decisions may become a thing of the past under a new law to be introduced by
the Justice Minister.
Phil Goff says the government wants to allow an 11 to one verdict instead - a
move that would bring New Zealand
into line with countries like Australia,
England and the United States.
Goff says it is intended to reduce the high number of hung juries and to
prevent so-called rogue jurors unduly influencing a verdict.
Under the new legislation, juries could be removed from trials altogether if
the case is considered too complex for people to understand.
Other changes include the provision for some trials to be heard by a judge
alone, for example where there is gang involvement and to avoid the potential
for juror intimidation.
The proposals follow recommendations made by the Law Commission in 2001. Goff
plans to introduce the Criminal Procedures Bill to parliament before the
middle of the year.
A prominent criminal lawyer says the proposed changes will water down the
Judith Ablett Kerr QC says the strength of the jury verdict is that all of
those within the group are in one mind. She says if it is diluted, the system
will be weakened and public confidence undermined.
Ablett Kerr says the current system needs to be improved, not reduced.
And the Green Party is laso warning that a move away from unanimous verdicts
could increase the chance of juries delivering an unsafe verdict.
National, Act and United Future support the move. But the Greens say proving
guilt beyond reasonable doubt provides a safeguard for defendants, which
would be weakened by the acceptance of a majority verdict.