Millions of taxpayers' dollars could be saved by setting up an independent body to investigate miscarriages of justice currently dealt with by a "clumsy and blunt" court process, Canterbury University's dean of law says.
Chris Gallavin and Labour justice spokesperson Andrew Little have renewed a decade-old debate, calling for the establishment of a Criminal Cases Review Commission.
Gallavin said the body was a necessity rather than a "nice to have", but it would only be made possible by a "progressive government".
The idea had already been rejected by the National-led government, and a government spokesman yesterday referred to Justice Minister Judith Collins' previous statement that the country's criminal justice system had robust safeguards against miscarriages of justice through the appeals process .
But Gallavin said there were cases involving "sloppy investigations", and an independent body investigating claims of miscarriages of justice would provide an element of integrity above the current "clumsy and blunt" process.
"It actually goes to the heart of the integrity of the system. In the long run I think it would save money."
Retrials and appeals cost a "huge amount of money" - about $1m to take a case to the Privy Council - and they brought down the reputation of the system. It would likely cost a few million dollars to set up an independent commission. "I wouldn't be surprised if within a very short time, it would completely pay for itself."
Little said the current process for dealing with alleged miscarriages of justice was "very ad hoc and there's no dedicated resources to it".
He quoted research which showed there were about 12 cases of injustice in New Zealand each year, but only one or two were picked up in through the prerogative of mercy process.
" I think [National] have their head in the sands about it."
An independent body like the Criminal Cases Review Commission in England and Scotland would be another "safety valve" for the justice system, he said.
"Cases going back as far as Arthur Allan Thomas and as recent as Mark Lundy, and including Teina Pora in between, could all have benefited from a criminal cases review commission.
"The reality is that things can go wrong in a trial and juries can get things wrong, and the appeal process can sometimes allow too narrow an opportunity to challenge what has gone wrong at trial."
In August, Collins said the Ministry of Justice was administering 12 applications for pardons and three applications for compensation claims.
In October, she shunned calls for an independent body to be set up following the Privy Council's decision to throw out Mark Lundy's double murder convictions for the murder of his wife Christine and daughter Amber in 2000.
The legal aid bill for David Bain's retrial was $3.33m, the highest amount in legal history.
Convicted in 1995 of murdering his parents, Robin, 58, and Margaret, 50, his sisters Arawa, 19, and Laniet, 18, and his 14-year-old brother Stephen, Bain was acquitted at a 2009 retrial.
Ministry of Justice's final figure for Bain's defence was $3.33 million. Of that amount, $2.33 million went towards the retrial costs and almost $1 million was paid for expenses in the retrial.
Lawyer's fees throughout the High Court, Court of Appeal and retrial process amounted to $1.77 million of the total bill.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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