Herald calls on National to support Criminal Procedure Bill

An interesting collection of people and groups have been calling for to support the Government’s . At last glance they are:

  • The Chief High Court Judge
  • DPF!
  • The Sensible Sentencing Trust
  • Louise Nicholas
  • ACT

Today’s Herald editorial says:

The National Party subscribes not only to the notion that victims relish their day in court but that every card in the judicial deck should be brought to bear on criminals. Consequently, it has stalled the Criminal Procedure Bill, which would allow pre-trial depositions to be based on written evidence, unless otherwise ordered by a judge. By now, however, National should have had a drastic rethink.

The Criminal Procedure Bill ensures this process will have to be endured just once, unless a judge decides a depositions hearing is necessary. Rarely will this be the case. The use of written evidence should not alter the present situation, in which very few cases do not proceed to trial because insufficient proof is produced at hearings. Yet somehow this does not satisfy the Law Society, which also opposes the legislation. It suggests depositions hearings are important not just for disclosure but for testing witnesses’ evidence and reliability and for confronting defendants with the case against them. This, it suggests, might persuade them to plead guilty.

These objections smack more of self-interest than reality. Essentially, they do little more than proclaim the desirability, in an ideal world, of staging dress rehearsals. This pales into insignificance alongside the many advantages of allowing depositions based on written evidence.

Some lawyers have been making very constructive arguments in the blog debate on the issue, arguing for the value off depositions hearings and how they can lead to changed pleas etc. Despite their useful arguments I have not been convinced because what has been lacking is any hard numbers on what proportion of cases does this apply to. Is it worth having 20 depositions hearings, if only one of them results in someone then pleading guilty? Some more concrete facts and figures would be useful.

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