The New Zealand Herald reported this morning that Justice Minister Simon Power wants to see judges alone as opposed to 12 jurors decide the sentences for people facing charges punishable by less than three years’ jail.
The proposed revamp is expected to halve trial times and save taxpayers $20 million a year. Lawyers however believe that the proposal could breach the Bill of Rights by denying defendants the right to be tried by their peers.
Currently under the Bill of Rights anyone accused of an offence that carries a prison term of three months or more can elect trial by jury. One prominent Queens Council, Robert Lithgow, told TVNZ that judge-only trials will not solve the problem of getting cases heard.
You still need one judge – got to be at a jury trial as well as one judge at a hearing. So you’re just moving one indigestible blob of time into another place. So how exactly that’s going to fix things I don’t know,
Power also believes legal aid lawyers should have their eligibility to do legal aid cases tested if they are not proceeding in a ‘timely’ way. No Right Turn criticized the proposal, saying juries were a “bullshit-detector [providing] a vital protection in a democratic society”
Limiting the right to trial by jury is thus a fundamental assault on our human rights. And no amount of money can justify it. If Power is truly concerned about delays in the court system, he should resource it properly to cope with demand, not undermine our human rights in the name of “efficiency”.