Thursday, July 14, 2011

Reported back

The Justice and Electoral Committee has reported back [PDF; large] on the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill. In addition to modernising parts of the criminal process, the bill mounts a serious attack on the rights of the accused, abolishing the right to a jury trial in most cases, while forcing defendants to admit elements of the case against them (undermining both the tight to silence and the presumption of innocence) in the name of "efficiency". These "reforms" are fundamentally unjust, and attack core safeguards in our justice system. The select committee had a chance to amend them based on the evidence of submitters. So, did they?

Yeah, right. Oh, they've done some minor tweaking of the requirement to disclose matters in dispute, but the core problem remains: requiring defendants to notify which elements are in dispute effectively forces them to admit those which are not, while reducing the burden of the crown to prove every element of the case beyond a reasonable doubt. It undermines both the right to silence and the presumption of innocence, while allowing shoddy practice by prosecutors and potentially unsafe convictions. As for juries, those highly controversial changes - which will require amending the Bill of Rights Act, a core constitutional law, for only the second time in its history - did not even warrant a mention. And MPs wonder why the public has little faith in the select committee process. It's because a majority government can turn it into this sort of farce.

To their credit, Labour issued a minority report objecting to these changes. But unless they put their money where their mouth is, and promise repeal, then that's just so much hot air. Parties should be judged by their actions, not their words, and a party which allows such injustice to stand is not worthy of our support.

As for the Greens, given their opposition to the bill at first reading - the only party who did so - I would have expected a minority report from them as well, or a joint report with Labour. Instead, they're silent. Has their position on the bill changed? Or were they just slack?

Update: I've heard from Kennedy Graham, the Green member on the committee; they still oppose the bill, but he was distracted by one of his other portfolios. Oh, the joys of small parties...