Bill to create a new independent Crown entity is awaiting royal assent
The Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill, which passed its third reading on 12 November, adds “an important safety valve” to New Zealand’s criminal justice system, says Justice Minister Andrew Little.
The commission, which will be a new independent Crown entity, will investigate claims of miscarriages of justice. It will have three to seven commissioners, including a chief and deputy chief commissioner, appointed by the governor-general and supported by specialist staff.
“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,” Little said. “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.”
The minister thanked Winston Peters and New Zealand first for pushing for the establishment of the commission. Little also highlighted an important change to the bill, which was made through the legislative process, of requiring at least one commissioner to 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,” Little said.
The commission’s information-gathering powers will include applying for a court order to access privileged information in certain 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,” Little said.