New Zealand Law Society - Justice select committee unable to recommend Criminal Cases Review Bill be passed

Justice select committee unable to recommend Criminal Cases Review Bill be passed

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The Justice select committee has released its report on the Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill and is unable to recommend that it be passed. It has recommended some amendments to the bill.

The committee received 33 submissions and heard oral evidence from8 submitters.

The bill would establish an independent Criminal Cases Review Commission to review suspected miscarriages of justice. It could review convictions and sentences and could refer them to the appeal courts if it would be in the interests of justice to do so.

As introduced the bill states that the appointment of a commissioner familiar with te ao Māori would be desirable. The committee recommends amending clause 40 to a requirement that at least one commissioner is familiar with te ao Māori.

The committee recommends amending clause 11 to expressly recognise that the commission’s primary function would include investigation in addition to its review function.

Clause 12(1) should be amended so that the Commission is empowered to initiate an inquiry into general matters that have arisen in the course of performing any of its functions or duties, rather than just matters that have arisen while the Commissioner was reviewing a conviction or sentence.

Clause 15(3) should be amended to make it clear that the commission’s procedures are to be consistent with the principles of the Treaty of Waitangi.

Clause 20 should be amended to make it clear that courts should treat a referral from the Commission as a first appeal against the conviction or sentence.

The bill as introduced does not explicitly allow the commission to disclose information in order to prevent or lessen a threat to public health and safety. However, this type of disclosure would be permitted under the Privacy Act 1993, Information Privacy Principle 11(f). New paragraph (g) should be inserted into clause 35(2) to allow disclosure if it would prevent or lessen a serious threat (as defined in section 2(1) of the Privacy Act) to public health or safety or an individual’s life or health.

The committee proposes several changes to the bill in relation to privileged or confidential information including providing separately for claims of confidentiality and privilege buy removing reference to confidentiality from clause 37 and inserting new clauses 37C to 37G to provide for confidential communications and information.

As introduced the bill exempts the commission for certain requirement in the Crown Entities Act 2004, for example having to prepare a statement of intent (clause 43) and a statement of performance (clause 44). The committee believes that these exemptions could limit Parliament’s ability to adequately monitor the commission’s performance and so recommends removing clauses 43 and 44 and inserting a new clause 43.

The National Party does not support the bill and its members believe that the Government should consider reforming existing structures of criminal justice first.