Crimes Act revised to hasten justice delivery

The legal maxim that ‘Justice delayed is Justice denied,’ has been a subject of debate and even discord at several formal and informal meetings. While hundreds of thousands of cases go through the legal systems of countries around the world, delays inevitably occur, partly because of the complexity of the cases concerned and partly because of the immense pressure on the justice and court system.

New Zealand has been doing its best to address the issue, which I believe would be partially achieved with the new Criminal Procedure Act that came into force on July 1, 2013. The Act effectively amended some of the clauses that had remained in force for more than 50 years.

Significant changes

The changes are significant to all of us but since some of the legal terminologies could be ‘too technical’ for everyone to understand, I have attempted to provide a broad view of the new procedures for Indian Newslink readers.

As mentioned, the procedures have been simplified to enable members of the legal profession and law enforcers to respectively access the justice system and dispense speedy justice, interpreting the statutes in force.

The process is now codified to a large extent, creating significant obligations on all parties, both in terms of time frame and outcomes. Meeting these obligations will be a challenge and requires a highly organised approach by all parties.

The jury threshold has increased to offences punishable by a maximum sentence of imprisonment of two years or more.

Four Categories

The first change is that the complex system of seven categories of offences has been reduced to four in the new Act. The distinction of Summary and Indictable offences has been removed. All the offences are categorised as 1, 2, 3 and 4, depending on the seriousness of the offence.

The offence categories determine what type of trial is available to the defendant.

The First Category of offense concerns only with Fines. In this category, the offences are not punishable by imprisonment, tried under the Judge-alone proceedings by a District Court Judge, Community Magistrates, or one or more JPs.

Example of this Category would include offensive behaviour or offensive language, driving with an expired licence, fighting in public place and so on.

The Court can proceed in the absence of the defendant at any stage in the Criminal Justice process of a Category 1 case. In this case, a plea may be entered by notice, regardless of whether plea is guilty or not guilty. The defendant need not be represented by a Counsel.

The Second category of offences is those punishable by less than two years’ imprisonment or offences that carry a maximum penalty of community based sentences. Examples of this Category include Common Assault under the Crimes Act (One year imprisonment). Such offences are non-electable and tried by a Judge under the Judge-alone procedure in the District court with few exceptions.

The Third category of offences cover a broad range of offending. There is a right to elect trial by Jury, although in some cases, the offences are tried at a District Court by the Judge-alone procedure.

The Fourth Category offences are specifically defined in the Schedule 1 of the Criminal Procedure Act. These offences must go before a Jury. Among the examples of this Category are manslaughter, attempted murder and murder.

The nomenclature used in the previous regime has also undergone changes. For example, prosecution used to lay summons under the previous Act, whereas it would be filing a ‘Charge Document’ from July 1, 2013.

Case progression

Some of the changes are as follows:

The progression of cases will occur in two tracks, namely those tried by the Judge alone (earlier called, ‘Defended Hearing’) and Jury Trial, either at a District Court or a High Court.

Case Management meetings ensure that discussions have been held between the defence counsel and the prosecution and whether a resolution was possible before it reached the Court for further progression, with determination of definite timelines set for case progression.

The accused must enter a ‘guilty’ or ‘not guilty’ plea at the second appearance. If there is no plea at this appearance, it would then be considered as ‘not guilty’ plea.

Incentives & Sanctions

The Act outlines incentives to people who progress the case at various stages.

In other words, clients, who do not progress their case due to any reason, may have difficulties in getting the incentives or discounts in sentences. Costs orders will also be made in appropriate cases, where it is satisfied that there was a breach of procedure leading to delays and/or expense.

Jury strength

The cap to have a minimum number of jurors has also changed. In the previous regime, the Jury trial used to be abandoned if the Jury number fell below ten. Under the new procedure, there is flexibility allowed in such situations.

There are clear guidelines set out in the new procedure for name suppression and the discretion regime has been removed.

The law is codified in the Statute in cases where the defendant is absent from the proceedings. In tune with modern technology, the new law allows proper use of electronic filing of charges in courts and electronic method to supply the charged document to the counsels.

Ram Sastry is a Barrister specialising in Criminal, Immigration, Traffic and Family Laws. He can be contacted on (09) 6244180 Mobile 021-2307222. Email: sastryrambhatla@gmail.com

The above should be read only as guidelines. Readers must seek appropriate legal opinion from appropriate channels for their individual case requirements.

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