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Justice system has robust safeguards, says Collins

Published: 8:45PM Wednesday October 09, 2013 Source: ONE News

Justice Minister Judith Collins has shunned calls for an independent body to be set up to remedy miscarriages of justice following the Privy Council's decision to throw out Mark Lundy's double murder convictions.

The London Law Lords on Monday quashed Lundy's convictions for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber in 2000, saying they could not be considered safe, and said he should be retried as soon as possible.

Following the decision, Lundy's lawyer Malcolm Birdling said the system in New Zealand for remedying miscarriages of justice is "woefully deficient" and it is time New Zealand thought of a criminal case law commission.

"Cases like this are happening far too often and the New Zealand processes at the moment simply aren't up to it," Mr Birdling said.

Ms Collins said tonight that New Zealand's criminal justice system has robust safeguards against miscarriages of justice through the appeals process and the Royal prerogative of mercy.

"It's perhaps inevitable that following decisions on high profile criminal cases there are calls for changes to New Zealand's review process in the criminal justice system," she said.

Successive governments have considered setting up a Criminal Cases Review Commission but none have progressed the idea, she said.

"It's unfortunate that calls for an independent body to be set up like Britain's and Scotland's Criminal Cases Review Commissions are based on misconceptions about what avenues are already available and what more an independent body could do," the Minister said.

The British and Scottish CCRCs work in an identical way to the Royal prerogative of mercy in New Zealand by providing a special avenue for a convicted person to seek a review of his or her case where a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, she said.

Neither body has the ability to quash convictions or substitute their own decisions for those of the court - in both systems matters are referred back to the courts for reconsideration if it is found a miscarriage may have occurred.

High profile New Zealand cases

In New Zealand, several high profile cases like those involving Rex Haig, Peter Ellis and David Dougherty have been referred back to the courts under the Royal prerogative of mercy, and this is what an independent body like the CCRC would have done if they had looked at these cases, Ms Collins said.

In Mark Lundy's case, his conviction was quashed by the Privy Council, our highest appellate court alongside the Supreme Court, she said.

"This is the appropriate pathway. In New Zealand and the United Kingdom, the courts are independent. The process for challenging any decision of the court is by appealing to a higher court. The Executive is not able to step in to the process until the courts have had an opportunity to self-correct decisions of lower courts.

"Our appeals process is working as it should."

Around 10 applications for the Royal prerogative of mercy are received each year with 153 applications made since 1995, Ms Collins said.

They are examined by the Ministry of Justice, which is entirely independent of the Police and prosecution, she said. Advice is often sought from senior Queens Counsel and retired judges in complex and high profile cases.

Of those 153 applications, in 15 instances the prerogative of mercy was exercised to refer the applicant's case back to the courts for further consideration.

The rate of referral to the courts of around 10 per cent is considerably higher than under the UK CCRCs, where around 4 per cent of applications they consider are referred back to the courts, the Minister said.