13 Nov 2019
Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill
The Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill passed its final reading on 12 November 2019. It establishes the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) which will investigate claimed miscarriages of justice. The Commission will review convictions and sentences and decide whether to refer them to the Court of Appeal or High Court as appropriate.
New Zealand Bar Association Vice-President and prominent criminal defence lawyer, Jonathan Eaton QC, notes that lawyers involved in criminal defence work have been advocating for an independent review body for many years.
“This Commission is very important for Maori who are over-represented in our prisons and for those whose cases might not attract public interest” says Mr Eaton.
“The Bar Association supports this initiative as an advance to access to justice and the Commission will fill a void in our criminal justice process.”
Justice Minister Andrew Little says that the CCRC is an important mechanism to enhance the independence, timeliness, quality and fairness of investigations into miscarriages of justice. “If the Commission finds there is a miscarriage, they will refer the case back to the Court of Appeal to reconsider whether the convictions should stand or fall,” says Mr Little.
The CCRC will be an independent Crown Entity, with between three and seven commissioners, including a Chief and Deputy Chief Commissioner. The Commission can appoint specialist advisers to assist it. At least one Commissioner must have knowledge or understanding of te ao Māori and tikanga Māori. Mr Little has said that he hopes this will encourage more applications from Māori, as there have been few applications from Māori for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy.
Any eligible person can apply for review. This means a living person who has been convicted of an offence. The Commission’s powers will partially replace the Governor-General’s Royal prerogative of mercy as set out in section 406 of the Crimes Act 1961: the power to refer a person’s conviction or sentence back to the appeal courts. However, the Governor-General would keep the other aspects of the prerogative of mercy, including the ability to grant a full pardon.
The CCRC will have important information gathering powers, including the ability to apply for a court order to access privileged information in a narrow range of circumstances. It will be able to require the giving of evidence under oath or affirmation.
The CCRC will also be able to initiate and conduct inquiries into general matters if, in the course of performing its functions and duties, it identifies a practice, policy, procedure, or other matter of a general nature that may be related to cases involving a miscarriage of justice or has the potential to give rise to such cases.