Success – Right to jury trial could be decided by courts

From NZ Herald today

People accused of child-smacking or domestic violence crimes could keep the right to have their cases heard by a jury, under an eleventh hour proposal to make the Government’s criminal justice reforms more palatable. Justice Minister Simon Power continues to talk to parties about the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation), which needs four votes other than National’s to pass. Negotiations have mainly focused on the provisions around an accused’s right to silence, but the bill would also substantially narrow the criminal cases that could be heard by a jury. Currently defendants can choose a trial by jury if they are facing a charge with a maximum penalty of at least three months’ jail; the bill proposes pushing the threshold to three years, which would see a change to the Bill of Rights Act. It would mean offences including theft of between $500 and $1000, possession of a class A drug, common assault, and assault on a female or child could only be heard by a judge.

Mr Power’s proposed changes soften the bill by enabling the court to allow jury trials for such charges in “exceptional circumstances”, or ones considered to be complex or sensitive. The defendant would have to satisfy the court of such circumstances. It would effectively mean that all cases could be heard by a jury, except where the offence does not carry a potential jail term.