Justice Minister Simon Power has raised the white flag on his criminal justice reforms with a commitment to preserve the right to silence and substantially watering down other aspects to gain cross-party support.

The concessions - which include accepting several Labour Party suggestions - follow more than a week of intense and fast-moving negotiations.

With the support of Labour, United Future, the Maori Party and Act with the possible exception of Rodney Hide, the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill is almost certain to pass before the election.

But the changes will raise questions over how much more efficient the bill will make the court system, which was one of its main objectives.


The proposed changes include:

* Dropping the pre-trial disclosure regime - described as an erosion of the accused's right to remain silent and not having that held against them - from the bill, and scrapping the proposal to leave it in the hands of the Rules Committee.

* Allowing trial by jury for cases where the offence carries a maximum penalty of more than two years' jail, and scrapping the proposed "exceptional circumstances" clause. The bill originally proposed a three-year threshold.

* Allowing a trial to proceed in the absence of the accused for procedural hearings, and preventing trials from proceeding if the defendant is absent and has a reasonable excuse, unless doing so would not prejudice the case. The bill originally required trials to proceed if the accused was unreasonably absent.

* Further restricting the ability of courts to impose fines, by clarifying that this can only be done rarely and for significant non-compliance in procedure.

* Removing the word "substantial" from the "miscarriage of justice" test.

The change to the jury trial threshold means that people accused of child-smacking or assaulting a female would still be entitled to a jury trial.

Mr Power last week tried to garner support for the pre-trial disclosure regime by proposing that the Rules Committee, a panel of legal experts, decide whether to make it mandatory. But this would have given the bill a parliamentary majority of one, and Mr Power wanted broader political support.


Labour's justice spokesman, Charles Chauvel, said he would recommend to the Labour caucus to support the bill.

"I'm pleased the objectionable parts of the bill have been removed. I would have preferred for this to have happened during the select committee process, but the main thing is that they're gone."

Act parliamentary leader John Boscawen, whose caucus was split on the bill, said the changes would preserve "basic fundamental rights and freedoms".

The bill also contains other changes with broad support, including a new system for categorising crime, and tougher rules for granting name suppression for celebrities.

The Government has six sitting days to progress the bill into law.