16 Sep 2011

Power calls trial procedures bill changes pragmatic

4:07 pm on 16 September 2011

Justice Minister Simon Power says changes made to legislation reforming criminal trials are practical and pragmatic.

As drafted, the Criminal Procedures Bill weakened the right to silence, raised the threshold for jury trials and enabled courts to hold a trial without the defendant present.

Mr Power says the Government had a narrow majority to pass the legislation, but he decided that because of the nature of the reforms the bill needed wider support.

After constructive negotiations with various parties, he says, he agreed to several changes.

ACT, Labour and the Greens all say the changes restore fundamental rights and freedoms that would have been lost under the original legislation.

The bill - which Mr Power says will still significantly speed up the criminal justice system - could now be passed before the general election on 26 November.

Labour's justice spokesperson Charles Chauvel says he will work to ensure that a new draft includes the changes agreed to by Mr Power.

Although the minister says cases will go ahead where the court is satisfied the defendant will not be prejudiced by his or her absence, Mr Chauvel told Morning Report that opposition from other parties has stopped trials in absentia.

The Law Society says it still has concerns about whether legislation reforming criminal trials is being changed in the right order.

President Jonathan Temm told Morning Report the legislation deals with the justice system's procedural superstructure, but a debate is needed on more fundamental issues that procedures are based on.