Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Collins rules out change to trials for child, sex victims

Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford
Justice Minister Judith Collins. Photo / Ross Setford

A proposal to get rid of jurors for sensitive court cases involving children or victims of sexual assault has been shelved by Justice Minister Judith Collins.

The minister said she had no interest in progressing her predecessor Simon Power's plan to introduce an inquisitorial system in New Zealand.

Mr Power, a more liberal member of the National Party caucus, had been interested in an alternative trials process and visited courts in Europe to investigate a system in which judges were able to interview victims of sexual crimes, get assistance from specially trained jurors, or come to a verdict without a jury.

The inquisitorial model was designed to protect victims or children from the pressure and stress of appearing in the courtroom.

The Law Commission was due to report back on the feasibility of a judge-alone system in New Zealand after a request from Mr Power for a review of how criminal trials were conducted.

Ms Collins told the Herald that the sentiment of an inquisitorial system was sound, but the practicality of it was not.

"A Supreme Court judge asked me how it would work when you have someone facing charges of kidnapping, rape and various offences. Would the rape charge be dealt with in an inquisitorial court and the others in an adversarial one?"

Unlike New Zealand, police played a smaller role in prosecution in European courts and judges were trained from university for the inquisitorial system.

Legal experts were wary of a change to New Zealand's adversarial process because it could breach a Bill of Rights provision that anyone accused of an offence that carried a jail term of three months or more could elect trial by jury.

There were already some safeguards in New Zealand's judicial system to reduce stress on victims, such as pre-trial interviews for children and the use of filmed interviews for victims who were reluctant to appear in court.

- NZ Herald

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