Cunliffe pushes economic policy, justice system reform plans

By Erin Majurey Wintec student journalist

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Labour leader David Cunliffe in Hamilton on Wednesday.
Labour leader David Cunliffe in Hamilton on Wednesday.

Labour leader David Cunliffe promoted his new economic policy to a packed Hamilton hall on Wednesday night before being grilled on his plans to reform the justice system.

More than 100 people spilled out of the Migrant Resource Centre to hear Cunliffe's proposal to move to an inquisitorial system as opposed to the adversarial system currently in place, meaning the accused in a rape trial would ultimately have to prove consent.

"At the moment the system is not okay. Only about one per cent of rape cases result in a conviction. That's way too low. What we have committed to is a reform of the justice system to make it easier and better for the victims of sexual violence and sex crimes to come forward," he said.

Cunliffe said the proposed law change is not a new idea.

"We've said that it's primarily a matter for the law commission to advise on. We got them to start some work on this under the previous Labour government.

Simon Power who was Minister of Justice carried that work on, but Judith Collins stopped it. But we are going to start it again," he said.

Sensible Sentencing Trust spokesperson Garth McVicar said he feels the change will be welcomed.

"We would be very supportive of this change. I've seen inquisitorial systems in place overseas. I liked what I saw for two reasons. Firstly, we have seen a dumbing down in the judicial system, in particularly the jury system here with a lot of offenders walking away without conviction. And secondly, this is more victim-friendly. It's far less traumatic. It's a gradual change back to a justice system rather than a legal process which really has no place for the victim," he said.

Cunliffe said the change is a huge step, with numerous options to be considered with the Law Commission.

"Several of the options include: Moving from an adversarial system, that's where you have defence and prosecution council cross-examining, to an inquisitorial system where the judge asks the questions. That would be much less traumatic for the victims. Secondly, a reform of the laws of evidence, it's a matter of detail -- what form of evidence is admissible, in what time frame, how can it be presented, how can it be user friendly, that sort off stuff," he said.

"We will not go as far as changing the burden of proof so that it's guilty until proven innocent. We will take expert advice over the question of consent."

Cunliffe said it was "quite likely" they would also look at readdressing the current bail laws to ensure victims safety.

"The protection order system is not working, and there's too much family violence happening where people have existing protection orders against them, and what I want to know is, is that the fact that the laws are too weak or the fact that the police aren't enforcing them."

- Hamilton News

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