An important safety valve has been added to New Zealand’s criminal justice system with the third reading of the Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill today.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) will investigate claimed miscarriages of justice.
“We’ve seen how our justice system can very occasionally get things spectacularly wrong, even with rights of appeals, and there needs to be a chance for the innocent on the right grounds to seek a final review of their case. The CCRC is an important mechanism to enhance the independence, timeliness, quality and fairness of investigations into miscarriages of justice,” Justice Minister Andrew Little says.
“If the Commission finds there is a miscarriage they will refer the case back to the Court of Appeal to reconsider whether the convictions should stand or fall.
“I would like to thank Rt Hon Winston Peters and New Zealand First for their advocacy for the establishment of the CCRC in the Labour New Zealand First Coalition agreement. Today, I am pleased to have delivered on that commitment,” Andrew Little says.
The CCRC will be established as a new independent Crown Entity, with between three and seven commissioners, including a Chief and Deputy Chief Commissioner. They will be appointed by the Governor-General and supported by specialist staff.
Through the legislative process the Bill was amended to include a requirement that at least one Commissioner have knowledge or understanding of te ao Māori and tikanga Māori.
“This particular amendment I hope will be part of a range of tools that help the CCRC encourage more applications from Māori, who have had very few applications for the Royal Prerogative of Mercy which the Commission partially replaces,” Andrew Little says.
The CCRC will have important information gathering powers, including the ability to apply for a court order to access privileged information in a narrow range of circumstances.
“Access to the necessary information will be vital for the CCRC to perform its function most effectively. It is anticipated that the Commission will be able to access most of the information it needs through consent and cooperation, but it is important to have this power to ensure the Commission has access to all relevant information required to investigate and review convictions and sentences,” says Andrew Little.