16 Nov 2010

Government rejected seven-year reform option

4:17 pm on 16 November 2010

The Government rejected the option of far tougher reforms when it began its overhaul of the justice system, it has been revealed.

The options it turned down in a Ministry of Justice paper included dramatically reducing the number of jury trials.

Among other things, the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill limits the right of defendants to seek a jury trial to cases involving a penalty of three years or more in jail, rather than the existing three months.

But the paper offered alternative thresholds of three, five or seven years, and said a seven-year threshold would save more than twice the number of expensive jury trials as a three-year option.

Justice Minister Simon Power introduced the bill to Parliament on Monday, saying it represented the biggest shakeup to the justice system in 50 years.

Mr Power says the proposal will simplify and speed up the criminal justice system, preventing 43,000 unnecessary court appearances each year.

But a law professor believes the changes could erode the right to a fair trial.

Warren Brookbanks admits reform of the system is timely, but says restricting the availability of jury trials may not be in the interests of justice.

Professor Brookbanks says that regardless of the possible punishment, some cases need to be heard by a jury rather than a judge alone.