Thursday, August 26, 2010

Justice is more important than efficiency

Justice Minister Simon Power spoke at Otago University today about his latest plans to reform criminal trials, including doing away with juries in almost all cases (something I've argued against here), cutting legal aid (so poor people will be easier to convict), and requiring lawyers to cooperate more to speed the process. Also mentioned was

requiring defence to identify issues in dispute so courts can focus on those issues at trial
Which sounds innocuous. But think about it for a moment: in our criminal justice system, the accused is presumed innocent, and the burden of proof lies wholly on the prosecution. It is the crown's responsibility to prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. Requiring defendants to "identify issues in dispute" not only lets the prosecution skip important parts of that process - it also effectively requires defendants to give evidence against themselves, and confess to aspects of the crime, in contravention of both the Bill of Rights Act and accepted standards of justice.

Power's proposal would undoubtedly be more efficient. So is strapping defendants to chairs and beating them with rubber hoses until they confess. But neither is just. And that ultimately is what matters in a justice system - not efficiency, but justice.

Power is willing to sacrifice that justice for the sake of a few dollars, so he can give his mates a bigger tax cut. It's appalling and shameful. But again, so very, very National.