New Zealand Law Society - Coroner makes recommendations on bail decisions

Coroner makes recommendations on bail decisions

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A coroner’s report has identified a number of failings in the case of murdered student Christie Marceau and made a number of recommendations.

On 7 November 2011, Akshay Chand entered Miss Marceau’s Auckland home and stabbed her several times. She was dead when ambulance staff arrived.

At the time Mr Chand, who was also 18, was out on bail, charged with kidnapping Miss Marceau on 6 September 2011, assaulting her with intent to commit sexual violation, and threatening to do grievous bodily harm.

Mr Chand was found not guilty in October 2012 of murder by reason of insanity.

In her 127-page report, the Coroner, Katharine Greig, makes several recommendations, including better information-sharing between the courts, the police and the health system, to ensure that judges are fully informed when they are making bail decisions.

She recommends that [page 51]:

“district court processes are amended to provide that: When an assessment report pursuant to s38 of the Criminal Procedure (Mentally Impaired Persons) Act 2003 is ordered by the Court on its own initiative while bail for a serious offence/offences is being considered, the Judge's notes pertaining to the decision to order the report are routinely made available to the health assessor appointed to prepare the report (to form part of the collateral information the health assessor will consider before making the report).”

Ms Greig also recommends [page 76]: “An in-depth review of the issues relating to document management at NSDC highlighted in these findings is undertaken (including a review of the adequacy of electronic document management systems, particularly in relation to access, accuracy, and interoperability).”

She suggests these changes are implemented nationally, and that, in particular, “changes are introduced to ensure that there is an accurate court file on which it is clear what documents have been received (by whatever means), and when, and what documents have been sought (e.g., transcribed notes of decisions and repors by health assessors), and when.”

Minister of Justice vows to fix the issues

On RNZ’s Morning Report on Wednesday, the Justice Minister Andrew Little said he would fix the failings identified in the coroner's report.

He told the programme: "I was surprised that in this day and age, the court is not getting good, timely information on particular things like the health status of somebody who was clearly a dangerous offender."

In a statement, the Chief District Court Judge, Jan-Marie Doogue says, to make sound, safe decisions “judges need as much information as possible”. 

“The findings of the Coroner’s inquest into the death of Christie Marceau highlight the risk created by information gaps in the criminal justice system and expose where some of those gaps are, especially around the quality of information that is placed before judges.”

Ministry of Justice Chief Executive Andrew Bridgman says the Ministry will be reviewing the coronial findings.

“We want to do all we can to ensure our policies and processes are best practice and will be working with other agencies involved in the criminal justice system,” he says.

“As the coroner noted, in recent times the implementation of the Criminal Procedure Act and changes to the Bail Act have changed the way the courts manage cases.  The District Court is now one court and a range of changes are being made to ensure consistency across all court locations.”