Tuesday, November 16, 2010


Yesterday the government introduced its Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill, which would restrict the right to trial by jury and force defendants to admit to elements of their crime, to Parliament. Today, Attorney-General Chris Finlayson declared it to be inconsistent with the Bill of Rights Act [PDF]. But not the bits you'd expect him to. Instead he focuses on minor issues around in absentia trials and retrials of acquitted defendants. On the core issue of the right to jury trial, he says it is "necessarily inconsistent", but doesn't seem to regard this as an actual problem, while he seems to have no problem with forcing defendants to identify issues in dispute i.e. admit some elements of a crime pre-trial.

On both issues, he relies heavily on UK law and jurisprudence that these limits are justified. This is a mistake. The UK is not a country anyone should hold up as a model for human rights. The fact that they restrict jury trial rights and allow retrials in high-publicity cases is simply further proof of this. The UK is what happens when an authoritarian, centralising government pursues a knee-jerk law and order agenda. It should not be used as justification for our government to do the same.