The introduction of legislation to establish a Criminal Cases Review Commission is a welcome development, the New Zealand Bar Association says.
Association Vice-President Jonathan Eaton QC says that lawyers involved in criminal defence work have been advocating for an independent review body for many years.
“The Bar Association believes that this is an important and positive development," he says.
Mr Eaton says while most people are aware of the Teina Pora case, where he spent 20 years in jail before his convictions for rape and murder were quashed, there are others who are currently in jail and should not be there.
“This commission is very important for the Maori population over represented in our prisons and for those whose cases might not attract public interest. The Bar Association is supportive of initiatives to advance access to justice and the Commission will fill a void in our criminal justice process.”
Mr Eaton says the threshold for review will be high and a review does not equate to an overturning of a conviction.
“It is important to remember that the Commission will not determine guilt or innocence but will have the power to refer cases back to the appeal courts”, he says.
The New Zealand Bar Association says the equivalent review commission in the United Kingdom sends about one in 30 cases back to the appeal courts. In New Zealand, material released by the Minister of Justice showed that 11 people and eight cases had been compensated for wrongful conviction since 1998.
The Bar Association says it believes that an independent review commission is essential to ensure that there is a robust process for dealing with miscarriages of justice. It will be examining the new legislation and making a submission to the Select Committee.