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Law Reform Index

Unanimous Jury Verdicts

The Dominion Post
September 9 2004

Call to ban police from vetting jurors
by Martin Kay

Police should be banned from using the Wanganui Computer to vet potential jurors in trials, MPs considering a bill that radically transforms the criminal justice system have been told.

Law Society criminal law committee member Greg King told Parliament's law and order committee that police regularly checked the criminal backgrounds of jury panels before trials and passed the information to prosecutors.

"That can represent a gross invasion of the privacy and the rights of citizens of New Zealand who are doing their duty," he said.

His comments came during Law Society submissions on the Criminal Procedure Bill, which would introduce sweeping changes, including an end to the principle of "double jeopardy".

The bill allows retrials for the same alleged offence if it can be shown an acquittal was due to perjury or intimidation or significant new evidence comes to light.

Jury verdicts will no longer have to be unanimous, pre-trial depositions hearings will be scrapped and judge-only trials will be allowed in cases that are complex or expected to last more than 20 days. The number of jurors lawyers will be able to challenge will reduce from six to four, and sequestering of juries during their deliberations will be abolished.

An end to the principle of double jeopardy was recommended after the acquittal of Black Power member Kevin Moore for the 1991 murder of Mongrel Mob member Robert Jillings.

It was later found Moore got a witness to lie to the jury. Moore was eventually convicted of conspiring to pervert the cause of justice, but the judge who jailed him for seven years said he had "quite literally got away with murder".

Other changes in the bill follow concern about the length of time and the cost of bringing cases to trial. Abolishing depositions is seen as a significant saving in court time and resources, as 92 per cent of cases proceed to trial anyway.

It was during discussion on changes to the jury system that Mr King raised concerns about police vetting.

Outside the committee, he said police regularly vetted potential jurors for the prosecution through the Wanganui Computer.

"In our view, it's a frequent occurrence that jury panels are screened by the police and the Crown to ascertain whether they have any criminal convictions and that information is relayed back to the prosecutor."