Supreme Court Justice Sir William Young QC in Dunedin this
week. Photo by Peter McIntosh.
Despite improvements in the New Zealand legal system,
there is ''no room for complacency'' about the possibility of
miscarriages of justice, Supreme Court Justice Sir William
Justice Young gave a talk this week on ''The role of the
courts in correcting miscarriages of justice'', at the
University of Otago Law Faculty.
''We can't be complacent,'' Justice Young added in an
For many years and in several countries, including England, a
common factor in correcting some leading cases of miscarriage
of justice had been the backing of organised supporters for
Sometimes such supporters had formed committees and sometimes
articulate people had taken up the cause and strongly
promoted it, he said.
In 2006, Sir Thomas Thorp, now a retired High Court judge,
recommended New Zealand set up an independent commissioner to
investigate claims of miscarriages of justice.
Such commissions operate in England, Scotland and several
Justice Young emphasised he was not commenting on the wider
merits of such commissions.
He noted that, over the years, there had been many cases of
miscarriages of justice in several countries, and many
convicted people in the United States had gained their
freedom after analysis of DNA evidence had later ruled them
It was wrong to assume there were no other miscarriages of
justice among people who had no vocal supporters and who,
being perhaps inarticulate themselves, had remained silent
and apparently accepted their lot.
One advantage of the commission approach was that a
commission had the resources to undertake its own
investigations, which could be of value when convicted people
had few supporters or resources to call on.
Nevertheless, many factors had contributed to developing an
improved judicial system, which was probably producing ''more
accurate'' outcomes than in the old criminal justice system.
Such improvements had included ''significant developments''
in criminal procedure, including a requirement for the
prosecution to disclose all relevant material to the defence,
and routine videotaping of police interviews with suspects in
Other scientific and technological developments had also
helped to show innocence, as well as guilt.
Among such developments were the use of DNA evidence and `the
increasing availability of largely incontrovertible evidence
of whereabouts'', linked to the ''electronic footprints'' now
left by many people through their use of cellphones, credit
cards and computers, and growing use of security cameras, he