NZ criminal law may be fair!

Readers of these blogs will be pleased to see that criticisms of Moloney v New Zealand (see blog entry for 3 May 2006, and the article developed from that, “A little unfairness goes a long way” [2006] NZLJ 210) turned out to be essentially the reasons that an appeal from that decision was allowed today: New Zealand v Moloney [2006] FCAFC 143 (5 October 2006).

The Full Court (5 judges) of the Australian Federal Court held that the judge had been wrong to conclude that differences, as between New Zealand and Australia, in rules of procedure and evidence concerning the conduct of criminal trials, permitted the conclusion that a trial in New Zealand would be unfair. Overruling him, the Full Court made the following points:

  • The close relation between New Zealand and Australia, reflected in the abbreviated extradition procedure which is analogous to that which applies within Australia, permits an assumption of trial fairness in New Zealand (paras 2, 21, 22, 36, 37).

  • The approach to warning juries in cases concerning historical allegations of sexual abuse is not significantly different as between Australia and New Zealand: both have the objective of a fair trial, and both recognise that warnings must be tailored to the circumstances of the trial. It was wrong to assume that a judge in New Zealand would not give a warning (212, 215, 216, 219, 221, 222, 224, 226).

  • As far as trials involving multiple complainants are concerned, it is a matter for the trial judge in New Zealand to decide whether severance is appropriate or whether similar fact evidence is admissible. Such differences as there are between the laws of Australia and New Zealand on these points is little more than a different formulation of the judge’s discretion to exclude unfairly prejudicial evidence. Conclusions about the likelihood of joint trials were unwarranted at this stage (228, 229, 231).

It has been announced that the unsuccessful respondents in this case will seek leave to appeal to the High Court of Australia. [Update: on 16 October 2006 the High Court of Australia declined leave to appeal.]
 

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