Tuesday, July 29, 2008

Appeals on moot questions

It is a relief to see that the Supreme Court did not need to refer again to the balance of probabilities (see last blog) when it granted leave to appeal in Gordon-Smith v R [2008] NZSC 56 (25 July 2008).

The leave granted here opens the door for an appeal against the ruling in R v King and Stevens [2008] NZCA 79 (blogged 14 April 2008). The case name has changed because this appellant, a co-defendant at trial, had standing to seek leave to appeal. Her standing arose from the fact that she was convicted, and that the Court of Appeal decision on the point of law reserved at the request of the prosecution went against her. But, because the trial judge’s ruling had been in her favour, there is no possibility that a successful appeal here will affect her conviction or sentence. The Crown too wished to appeal against an aspect of the Court of Appeal’s ruling, but again at trial a procedure favoured by the Crown had been followed.

The questions of law for determination in this case are therefore, as far as the parties are concerned, moot. They are:

(1) Can the police supply so-called “vetted jury lists” to the Crown to assist the Crown in deciding whether or not to challenge a prospective juror? If yes:
(2) Should a vetted jury list that is supplied to the Crown also be made available to the accused?
(3) Can the Crown peremptorily challenge a prospective juror on the basis of information obtained from a vetted jury list?

The Supreme Court discussed the question of when it should hear cases where there is no longer an issue that could affect the parties. Following the Supreme Court of Canada in Borowski v Attorney-General [1989] 1 SCR 342 at 358-363, the relevant considerations, once a question qualifies for consideration as a matter of public or general importance, and once a person with standing is applying for leave, are the importance of the adversarial process (which might not be invoked properly in the absence of a live issue between the parties), the need for economic use of judicial time, and the sensitivity of the courts to their proper role (advisory opinions being undesirable, especially where the legislature should determine the matter). The approach being properly cautious, particularly so where (but not in this case) an appeal might call into question the propriety of an acquittal (para 26 – 28), the Court concluded that here the questions were not ones that should be left to the legislature. The same questions of procedure were likely to arise in another case and it was desirable to review the correctness of the Court of Appeal’s decision promptly.

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