Minister looks at court systems in Europe and UK   11 Jun 2010

New Zealand Government - Justice Minister Simon Power leaves for Europe at the weekend to look at inquisitorial systems of justice in Germany and Austria, and at the United Kingdom's Virtual Courts Pilot and legal aid reforms.

Mr Power said he was determined to improve the criminal justice system for those who are in it through no fault of their own, and the trip was designed to look at what works overseas.

"It's become very clear to me that the system is not serving those people well.

“Criminal procedure should be designed so victims are not re-brutalised by their participation in the process.

"For example, child victims who are forced to give evidence, under cross-examination, 12 months later for something that happened when they were five or six, or women who have been traumatised by an incident of sexual violence being made to explain and re-live that experience under cross-examination.

"That's not a satisfactory way to deal with those people.

"I'm interested in investigating whether aspects of the inquisitorial system of justice would serve that goal, and that's what I'll be looking at in Germany and Austria, where victims have a more recognised role in the process.

"Austria has a traditional inquisitorial system where the court’s role is to do everything in its power to establish the facts, including carrying out its own investigations if necessary. Germany has more of a hybrid system that incorporates both inquisitorial and adversarial approaches."

The recent report of the Taskforce for Action on Sexual Violence noted that alternative trial and pre-trial processes could reduce the re-victimisation that many victims suffer during the adversarial criminal trial process.

“It is timely to re-evaluate the way our court systems operate.

“The fact that we have always done things a certain way does not mean we should continue to do things that way, or that there is no room for improvement.

"I'll make changes if these systems are working well in other jurisdictions."

The Virtual Courts Pilot in London aims to accelerate a defendant’s first hearing –from a few days to a few hours – in order to improve the service provided to victims, witnesses and defendants.

“There are strong links between the Virtual Courts Pilot and the Criminal Procedure (Simplification) Project we are working on in New Zealand, which is designed to bring greater efficiency to the criminal trial process."

Mr Power will discuss legal aid reforms with English Secretary of State for Justice, Kenneth Clarke QC, and Attorney-General Dominic Grieve.

England and Wales have the biggest legal aid system in the world. It has been undergoing significant reform in recent years, including moving to a more competitive model of funding based on price and quality.

“The reform of legal aid in New Zealand is one of my priorities and I'm looking forward to examining similar reforms in the United Kingdom.”

Mr Power will spend one day in each country.

ENDS

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