Govt Denies Parents Right to Fair Trial

Family First NZ says it is disturbing that the Criminal Procedure (Reform and Modernisation) Bill to be passed by the government is denying parents the right to be tried by their peers on crucial family issues.

“By removing the right to juries for crimes punishable by less than three years in prison, the Government has not thought carefully about the implications that would have for parents who are prosecuted for minor acts of physical discipline or smacking,” says Bob McCoskrie, National Director of Family First NZ.

“The anti-smacking debate has led to an ill-conceived, clumsy and confusing law and if this new regime is implemented, it would further exasperate good parents who find themselves before the courts because it takes away their choice to choose to be tried before their peers.”

“The new regime also suggests that an assault – including domestic assaults – is a more minor offence, yet a conviction of assault is actually a serious conviction. And it is vital that parents have the right retained to choose to be judged by their peers rather than by a judge.”

When a similar proposal was put forward in the UK, the Law Society opposed it warning that “a conviction for an offence of dishonesty, irrespective of value, has fundamental implications for a person’s job prospects, ability to obtain insurance, and right to travel freely, among many other potential consequences. It would be entirely wrong if they did not have a right to jury trial before suffering such life-changing effects. Trial by jury is a fundamental right in cases where the defendant is at risk of imprisonment for a serious criminal offence or loss of their good reputation. Juries enhance the transparency of the court process and promote public confidence in the criminal justice system and the rule of law.”

The Queensland Law Society was also concerned when similar provisions were proposed, labelling it “deeply disturbing”.

Jonathan Krebs, convenor of NZ’s Law Society criminal law subcommittee said that an important consideration was the “impact on the fundamental right of everybody in our society to have a fair trial.”

“It is disturbing that the government is willing to put costs and budgets before the right to justice for parents,” says Mr McCoskrie.


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