Criminal procedure bill passed by parliament
Legislation which makes important changes to jury trials and depositions hearings has been passed by Parliament.
The Criminal Procedure Bill was introduced in June 2004 and spent many months in a select committee because National objected to a provision that allows written evidence to be used in depositions hearings.
That will avoid witnesses having to give evidence twice, and a compromise was worked out earlier this month which gives people the right to ask for oral hearings if they want them.
The Government also agreed to a review of the new system after two years.
The bill allows 11-1 jury verdicts instead of the current unanimous requirement, a Law Commission recommendation, and changes the law on double jeopardy.
Double jeopardy, which means a person can't be tried twice for the same crime, can now be waived in some circumstances.
The exceptions include when new and compelling evidence has been presented which is likely to lead to conviction, and when an acquittal is subsequently found to have been tainted by perjury or other means.
The changes in the bill will allow methamphetamine trials to be heard in district courts instead of only in high courts.
The cases have been clogging up high courts.
Chief High Court Judge Tony Randerson made an unusual public appeal to Parliament to pass the bill so the backlog could be cleared.
That prompted National's justice spokesman, Simon Power, to arrange a meeting with ministers to find a way around the problem with depositions hearings.
The bill passed its third reading 108-11, with the Greens, the Maori Party and independent MP Gordon Copeland opposing it.