Sunday, January 13, 2008

Miscarriages of justice: nothing to see here, move along

There is a prevalence in this country, by our politicians, to give knee-jerk reactions to situations that aren't necessarily problems. Bad policy then results in bad or stupid law. Examples recently are dog micro-chipping, the repeal of section 59 of the Crimes Act and finally the Electoral Finance Bill/Act.

So it was pleasing to see the government not being sucked in to the current 'problem' that has gained media space over the last few days, that of miscarriages of justice.
Dr Worth's member's bill, which still awaits a ballot, proposes the setting up of a fully independent and appropriately staffed and resourced authority which would put before the courts for reconsideration any claims of miscarriage which its investigations showed had merit.

Deputy Prime Minister Michael Cullen said in a letter to Dr Worth in November that his member's bill was too broad and might have unwarranted constitutional and fiscal consequences and would not be supported by the Government.

Dr Cullen said the Government was reviewing options to improve organisational arrangements, of which an independent body was one.
See here and here for the coverage. For a historical perspective see here and here. Phil U shouts from the rooftop here with this header:

people wrongly jailed after miscarriages of justice as many as twenty and the gummint does nothing...

How bad really is this 'statistic'? From the original Herald article in 2006 comes this:
Sir Thomas, whose interest in the topic arose from reviews he did for the Government, including work on the Ellis case, said that, based on British experience, "up to a score" of New Zealand inmates may be wrongly jailed.

His research includes analysis of 53 applications to the Justice Ministry claiming miscarriages of justice from 1995 to 2002. Of these, he classified 26 per cent as "raising issues that clearly required careful investigation".

Sixteen per cent were "plainly without merit", while 58 per cent had "sufficient potential to require some further investigation".
The very worst result from this analysis is that 84 per cent of 53 cases could be miscarriages. That makes about ~42 cases during the period of 1995-2002. During that period we know that convictions for all offences would total about 100,000 per year. I can't locate the statistics for these particular years, but some comparable statistics for 1990-1999 are here.

The result is that over the period complained of, 1995-2002, there would be about ~800,000 convictions, of which Sir Thomas Thorp perceives 42 could be 'dodgy'. I can live with that.

Moreover, from those flimsy figures we certainly don't need another tribunal whose brief simply would be to place yet more aggrieved criminals in front of the courts after the tribunal has investigated their complaint! The better option would be for the tribunal to have decision making powers, but it won't because there shouldn't be one set up.

And let's face it, what are the mathematical odds on Ellis, Tamihere, Lundy, Watson and Bain all actually being not guilty or even innocent of their crimes? The only one I have concern over is the Ellis case. The rest are simply murderers, nothing more, nothing less. People like this guy are simply wasting their time and money.

One thing the government could do to prevent any suspicion of miscarriages is to pay legal aid defence lawyers much more than they currently get (they actually haven't had a pay rise in ten years) and to allow greater flexibility in legal aid costs for experts and assistance to be available much easier than what the current set up allows. And the government should also fund DNA tests for accused who wish to test DNA evidence. The current set up of cross examining experts with few available clinics for defence tests is unacceptable.

1 comment:

Psycho Milt said...

Yeah, Geoff Levick's money is safe as houses, he ain't going to have cause to pay it to anybody. You could maybe express a concern that Lundy, Watson, Bain and Tamihere were convicted on balance of probabilities rather than beyond reasonable doubt, but in all of those cases that balance of probabilities is a pretty safe bet. I'm happier having them jailed on that basis than getting away with murder. Certainly not keen on funding someone to keep arguing about their cases years later and maybe even let them out.