Judges need better bail hearing information, says District Court chief judge

by Sol Dolor10 Mar 2018

Following the release of the coroner’s findings around the murder of Auckland teen Christie Marceau, District Court Chief Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said that judges need better information to make better decisions.

Coroner Katharine Greig made several recommendations in her report to ensure judges are fully informed when making decisions. These changes include improving information sharing between the courts, the authorities, and the health system.

The death of Marceau in 2011 sparked a movement for stricter bail laws. Marceau was stabbed to death by fellow 18-year-old Akshay Chand at her home after Chand – who was charged with kidnapping and assaulting Marceau – was granted bail.

Doogue said that the findings of the coroner highlight the risk created by information gaps in the criminal justice system. The gaps are particularly evident in the quality of information that is placed before judges, she said.

“To make sound, safe decisions that protect people from further harm, judges need as much information as possible. We rely on everyone across the system to capture that detail to the best of their ability and bring it to the court’s attention,” Doogue said. “This inquest has demonstrated the value of thorough, evidence-based inquiry for dispelling rumour and unfair speculation, and for shedding light on the complexity of the interdependent processes in the system which formed part of the backdrop to Christie’s death.”

Doogue said that the quality of information available to judges in bail hearings concerns her as chief judge.

“District Court judges have led an initiative to provide judges considering bail applications in certain types of violence cases with a pack that gathers together all information about a defendant held across various police and court files, and including victims’ views. The Ministry of Justice has helped us trial these ‘Judge’s Packs’ successfully in four regions and judges are eager to see them rolled out nationwide,” she said.

However, while the efforts improve the knowledge of judges about matters, they cannot completely remove risk, she said, adding that risks include those brought about mental disorder. Accurate clinical diagnosis may not always be possible, she said.

“Today’s findings also underscore the importance of good quality court administration and support services for both the people affected by crime and decision makers. District Court judges are determined to play our part; we owe it to all parties involved in criminal proceedings, and the communities which the District Court serves, especially victims and their families – families like the Marceaus,” Doogue said.


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