Editorial: Collins contradicts herself

Last updated 05:00 11/10/2013

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Justice Minister Judith Collins wasted little time examining the Lundy case before declaring that New Zealand doesn't need a criminal cases review commission.

"Our appeals process is working as it should," she said when rejecting the latest flurry of calls for such a commission after the Privy Council quashed Mark Lundy's conviction for murdering his wife and daughter.

The Privy Council, which included New Zealand Chief Justice Sian Elias on this occasion, found flaws in crucial parts of the police case against Lundy and ordered a retrial.

The ruling does not mean he is innocent - that's to be decided by the jury which rehears the case. But he has persistently maintained his innocence and innocent people are sometimes locked up in our prisons.

One newspaper commentator reminded us that Sir Thomas Thorp, a former Crown prosecutor and High Court judge who had been involved in reviews of controversial cases for the Government, in 2006 estimated there were likely to be at least 20 innocent people in our jails.

His estimate was based on the experience of the independent Criminal Cases Review Commissions in England and Scotland and its findings in cases where it had decided there was a "real possibility" convictions would be overturned on referral to the Court of Appeal.

Sir Thomas favoured the establishment of a "fully independent and appropriately staffed and resourced authority" to investigate dubious verdicts and refer cases back to the courts for reconsideration.

In the aftermath of the Privy Council ruling in the Lundy case, other legal luminaries have said they, too, see merit in setting up a commission independent of the Crown. The Law Society supports the idea.

Ms Collins disagrees, although a few days earlier she had been setting out a strong case for court reforms "to bring justice up to speed" and ensure against long delays in judges' rulings. She intends to introduce legislation later this year.

This does not square with her insistence our criminal justice system can deal with miscarriages of justice through the appeals process and the royal prerogative of mercy. It has taken 13 years for the Lundy case to be revisited, despite the "robust safeguards" the minister places her confidence in.

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