The guidelines that instruct Crown Prosecutors who are considering so-called "plea bargains" are robust and well-considered, the New Zealand Law Society says.
The Solicitor-General's Prosecution Guidelines 2013 were relied upon by Crown prosecutors in the case against Tania Shailer and David William Haerewa, who were today sentenced to 17 years for manslaughter following the death of three-year-old Moko Rangitoheriri.
The Guidelines note that plea discussions and arrangements "have a significant value for the administration of the criminal justice system".
That value includes "relieving victims or complainants of the burden of the trial process", which is particularly relevant whenever vulnerable victims or witnesses are involved, says Law Society President Kathryn Beck.
"When making any decision as to charges all prosecutors are bound by the Guidelines, which were thoroughly reviewed in 2013 and have been developed over a long time with the benefit of years of experience in practice," she says.
"Importantly in the present context, decisions by prosecutors to accept a lesser charge than murder in relation to a homicide case are made in consultation with the deceased's family. Such decisions must be approved by the Solicitor-General through the Crown Law Office."
Ms Beck says the Law Society believes New Zealand has a robust process and clear guidelines for Crown solicitors who make these decisions.
The Guidelines include both a legal test – that of evidential sufficiency – and a public interest test, that prosecutors must consider in any decision to lay charges.
They note an expectation that prosecutors recognise victims' rights as an integral part of the criminal justice system.
They also state that, "ultimately", prosecutors "should make decisions based on the broader public interest and interests of justice".
"While never easy decisions to make, the Law Society is satisfied that the process that must be followed by decision-makers is fair, robust, and in accordance with the interests of justice and the public," she says.
"In relation to the sentencing, the charge of manslaughter still allowed the judge to impose a lengthy period of imprisonment - reflective of the serious nature of the offenders' crimes – as manslaughter carries the same maximum penalty as a murder charge: life imprisonment."