(Nov. 17, 2010) On November 15, 2010, the New Zealand Minister of Justice, Hon. Simon Power, introduced the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill in the Parliament. (Press Release, Hon. Simon Power, Biggest Changes to Criminal Justice System in Decades (Nov. 15, 2010), http://beehive.govt.nz/release/biggest+changes+criminal+justice+system+d
ecades.) The bill contains a number of significant changes aimed at simplifying and speeding up the criminal justice system, including:
· requiring the defence to identify and disclose issues in dispute before a trial. This is estimated to result in a savings of 450 court days a year, or 10% of the expected total trial sitting time under the new regime.
· allowing courts to proceed in the absence of a defendant if the court is not satisfied the defendant has a reasonable excuse for their absence.
· requiring the court to take into account a defendant's compliance with procedural matters as a mitigating or aggravating factor at sentencing.
· allowing the court to impose cost orders against the prosecution, defendant, and defence counsel if it's satisfied they have failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with a procedural requirement.
· allowing greater flexibility to continue with a trial when jury numbers fall to 10.
· ensuring guilty pleas are entered as early as practicable to help avoid unnecessary delay.
· promoting out-of-court discussions between parties so there are fewer adjournments and shorter hearings.
· reserving jury trials for the most serious and complex cases, including by raising the threshold for a defendant electing a jury trial from crimes carrying a penalty of more than three months' to those carrying more than three years' imprisonment. This is expected to cut the jury trial workload by 300 to 600 trials a year (a reduction of 25-45% in the jury trial workload). (Id.)
Compared to 2008 court workload figures, the benefits of the reform are expected to include “43,000 fewer court events, 1,000 to 1,400 fewer cases that need to be designated for trial by a jury, and 300 to 600 fewer cases that actually proceed to a jury trial.” (Explanatory Note, Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, http://www.legislation.govt.nz/bill/government/2010/
0243/latest/DLM3359903.html(last visited Nov. 15, 2010).) Overall, it is expected that the changes will result in savings of NZ$24.3 million (about US$18.8 million) over a five-year period. (Press Release, supra.) Over a ten-year period, the savings could amount to NZ$80.7 million (about US$62.5 million). (Hon. Simon Power, Questions and Answers, http://beehive.govt.nz/sites/all/files/Questions%20a
nd%20answers.pdf (last visited Nov. 15, 2010).)
Power said that “[i]t's been clear for some time that the excessive costs, the undue delays, and the needless complexities which govern criminal procedure needed to be addressed.” (Press Release, supra.) The criminal procedure legislation was originally enacted in the 1950s, and there have only been ad hoc changes since that time. The new 526-page bill repeals most of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 and is intended to bring provisions in other statutes into a coherent piece of legislation that also allows for developments in courtroom technology to be utilized in the future. “We cannot continue to mask delays and inefficiencies in criminal procedure by simply building more courthouses and appointing more judges,” Power said. (Id.)