21 Feb 2020

New Criminal Cases Review Commission to be based in Hamilton

5:34 pm on 21 February 2020

People believing they have suffered a miscarriage of justice will have their chance from 1 July when the new Criminal Cases Review Commission opens for business.

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Photo: RNZ / Richard Tindiller

It will be based in Hamilton, a deliberate move to distance it from the big bureaucratic and judicial centres of Auckland and Wellington.

An announcement on the new chief Commissioner and the location was made in Hamilton on Friday afternoon.

Sir Ngatata Love's defence lawyer Colin Carruthers QC leaving the High Court in Wellington.

Colin Carruthers QC. Photo: RNZ / Aaron Smale

Auckland Barrister, Colin Carruthers QC has been named as chief commissioner for an 18-month term.

A deputy chief commissioners and between one and five commissioners are still to be appointed.

The commission will review sentences and convictions where there's a claim of a miscarriage of justice.

It will replace the Royal prerogative of mercy exercised by the Governor General.

The commission will have the power to investigation but will not determine guilt or innocence but can refer cases back to the Court of Appeal.

Minister of Justice Andrew Little said it would be independent from the Ministry of Justice which until now has handled miscarriage applications.

Andrew Little

Andrew Little. Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

"Not because they haven't done a good job in the work that they have done but there is a perception that the very ministry that is there to support the judiciary is then also called upon to see whether the judiciary has done the job right.''

He was expecting an initial spike in applications before it settles down.

"Can be quite an intense exercise and I think with some dedicated resources it means that we can get on to investigations quickly and get a result that is going to hopefully bring an end to a persons anxiety about whether or not they have been treated unjustly.''

Carruthers has in the past been involved in a number of cases where he has advised the Minister of Justice over the Royal prerogative.

"So I know what the original process was and I think know what the short-comings are and the concept of having an independent body, independent of the Ministry of Justice and independent from Wellington or Auckland is important as well.

Six people have been appointed to an advisory group to help with the establishment phase.

  • Professor Tracey McIntosh - Professor of Indigenous Studies and Co-Head of Te Wānanga o Waipapa (School of Māori Studies and Pacific Studies) at the University of Auckland
  • Nigel Hampton QC - criminal defence lawyer
  • Professor Elisabeth McDonald - Professor of Criminal Law, Evidence and Procedure at the University of Canterbury
  • Dr Anna Sandiford - Senior Forensic Science Consultant and Director of The Forensic Group Ltd
  • Dr Tamasailau Suaalii-Sauni - Associate professor of Criminology at the University of Auckland
  • Tim McKinnel - investigator and previously a detective with New Zealand Police

McKinnel is best known for his work for Teina Pora who was wrongfully convicted of murdering Susan Burdett.

He said had the commission been in place, things would have been different for Pora.

"It probably would have halved the amount of time it took for us to get him justice and it is not only him we need to think about, it is the Burdett family and what the extended period of time it took for us to get justice meant for them, so a body like this properly resourced and funded I think will make things much much quicker."

Hamilton defence lawyer Roger Laybourn believed the commission was long overdue.

"No system is perfect and it is recognition that systems operated by human beings can make mistakes but the consequences of those mistakes can be absolutely horrifying."

Community Law Centres Aotearoa chief executive Sue Moroney said anything that improved justice was a good thing.

"What we know is that it is the most vulnerable and disadvantaged people in Aotearoa who don't actually get to use those sorts of processes and the very clumsy and bureaucratic process that has been in place up until now for people who had miscarriages of justice was almost inaccessible for pretty much everyone except for people who had large resources.''

Little said Hamilton was chosen as the home of the commission because it followed the practice overseas where similar bodies were established in cities that were not the centre of bureaucratic or judicial headquarters.

''Hamilton was a good choice. I was very keen for it to be in a city where there was a law school. Waikato University has got that, so it ticks all those boxes, and I think it will be a good location for the commission.''

England's commission is in Birmingham and Scotland's is in Glasgow.

Applications are open for prospective commission members.

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