The New Zealand Criminal Cases Review Commission is a distinctively New Zealand approach to addressing potential miscarriages of justice.
Our role is to review potential miscarriage of justice cases and refer appropriate cases back to an appeal court. If a person convicted of a criminal offence believes they have been wrongly convicted or sentenced, they can apply to have their conviction or sentence, or both, reviewed. Our Commissioners will review the case and decide whether a referral should be made.
We are an independent Crown entity that employs specialist staff to investigate possible miscarriage of justice cases.
We have procedures that ensure the investigation process is responsive to Māori and Pacific cultures, so that we are reflecting our country’s diversity.
We are totally independent from Ministers, the courts and relevant Crown organisations such as Police, the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Justice and the Crown Law Office. The Minister of Justice oversees the Crown interest in the CCRC, and is answerable to Parliament for that responsibility.
The test to refer a case to an appeal court is whether we consider it is in the interests of justice to do so. There is a range of factors we must consider when making a referral decision, including whether the convicted person has exhausted all appeal rights, whether there is fresh evidence and the prospects of a referral succeeding.
We have the power to do our own investigations and report the findings to the Minister of Justice, if we believe such investigations are required in the interests of justice.
We also have a range of tools to ensure our investigations are thorough, such as an ability to access information which might have previously been held back.
A comprehensive set of design principles will guide the work of the CCRC. These principles include the concepts of manaakitanga – ensuring that we protect and enhance the mana of all in the way we work – and whanaungatanga, ensuring that we involve applicants’ families and support networks, which recognises that the issues we deal with can have far-reaching, intergenerational impacts.
The design principles include accessibility, responsiveness, transparency, partnership and respect. The full set of principles will be published on this website shortly.
We are an Independent Crown entity for the purposes of the Crown Entities Act 2004. We have our own governing statute, the Criminal Cases Review Commission Act 2019.
The Crown Entities Act 2004 applies to the Commission except to the extent that the Criminal Cases Review Commission Act 2019 expressly provides otherwise.
The Chief Commissioner is Colin Carruthers QC and you will find his biography here.
Colin Carruthers QC heads a board of Commissioners, including a Deputy Chief Commissioner. Their biographies can be found here.
There will be a management group and their appointment details will be made available once they have been finalised.
An Establishment Advisory Group was formed at the beginning of 2020 to support the Chief Commissioner during our set-up phase. The group’s purpose is to provide advice aimed at ensuring our structure and functions reflect the Criminal Cases Review Act 2019. Its members bring a range of backgrounds and perspectives to their work. Their biographies can be seen here.
Miscarriages of justice occur because, as with any system, mistakes are made.
When someone is convicted for a crime they did not commit, or when someone believes the system has failed them, it causes unimaginable distress to that person and their whānau/family and sparks criticism of our justice system. It also means victims of crime have not had justice served either.
For many years, anyone in New Zealand who believes they have suffered a miscarriage of justice has been able to apply to the Governor-General – who acts on the advice of the Minister of Justice - for the exercise of the Royal prerogative of mercy. It has been providing an avenue for criminal cases to be re-opened, which can result in the Royal prerogative being exercised to grant a pardon, or a decision to refer a person’s conviction or sentence back to the courts.
However, the record shows it is both failing to receive, and to encourage, applications from people who are over-represented in the justice system, including Māori and Pacific people.
The proportion of applications for the Royal prerogative of mercy from Māori and Pacific peoples has been estimated at between 11 and 16 per cent, despite making up more than 60 per cent of the New Zealand prison population.
The case for a Criminal Cases Review Commission in New Zealand for people of all ethnicities and backgrounds, arose out of concerns about the independence, timeliness and quality of investigations into miscarriages of justice.
These concerns were expressed over many years by civil society groups, including the New Zealand Public Interest Project, the New Zealand Innocence Project, and others including MPs, journalists, academics and members of the legal profession, including investigators and forensic scientists.
Several countries have established a Criminal Cases Review Commission, including the United Kingdom (England, Wales and Northern Ireland), Scotland and Norway.
The Criminal Cases Review Commission Bill was introduced in the New Zealand Parliament in September 2018 and passed its final reading on 12 November 2019.
We have been accepting applications since 1 July 2020.
Information about the legislation establishing the New Zealand Criminal Cases Review Commission, and related documents, can be found here.