Friday, September 16, 2011

A small collection ...

No compensation for judicial breach of rights

If a judge breaches your rights under the Bill of Rights, you may not claim compensation: Attorney-General v Chapman [2011] NZSC 110 (16 September 2011) per McGrath and William Young JJ jointly with Gault J concurring. Elias CJ and Anderson J dissented.

The majority reasoning emphasised public policy which was an extension to the personal immunity of judges from suit and was based on the need to protect judicial independence.

Eyewitness identification evidence

An illustration of circumstances where there was insufficient support for the reliability of identification by an eyewitness who claimed in a fleeting sighting to recognise the defendant from two encounters several years previously (there being no evidence about why those should have made the present identification more reliable), so that the requirements of s 45 of the Evidence Act 2006 were not met, is Harney v Police [2011] NZSC 107 (16 september 2011). The Court emphasised the need for strict compliance with s 45 in view of the dangers of mis-identification. Dock identifications too should be permitted only in the most exceptional circumstances [20 at footnote 20]. The witness's confidence in the accuracy of his own identification is just a factor to be taken into account, as the opposite side of the coin of hesitancy, and confidence cannot itself satisfy a reliability test [33].

Mootness and ordering judge alone trials

Occasionally an appellate court may hear and decide an appeal notwithstanding that the issue in question no longer is a live one in the case: Signer v R [2011] NZSC 109 (16 September 2011), applying R v Gordon-Smith [2008] NZSC 56 (its substantive point discussed here on 23 March 2009) and see also R v McNeil [2009] SCC 3 discussed here on 20 January 2009).

The substantive point in Signer concerned the interpretation of s 361D of the Crimes Act 1961. Does the word "likelihood" in subsection 3(b) mean that a judge must find it "probable" that jurors will not be able to perform their duties effectively? Or does it just mean that the judge considers there is an "appreciable risk" of that? The Supreme Court held that "likelihood" imports a balancing exercise and does not set down a specific standard. The accused's right to a jury trial may be outweighed by the need for a fair trial. Beyond saying that, the Court preferred not to explore the matter without a live issue which would provide specific circumstances for consideration.