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CA to rule on right to jury in contempt cases

By Steven | November 3, 2008

The Bill of Rights Act says we have the right to a trial by jury if the penalty for an offence exceeds 3 months jail.

The maximum penalty for contempt is indefinite imprisonment. Recently, Vince Siemer was sentenced to 6 months in jail. He asked for a jury trial. It was denied.

Why? The Courts maintain that contempt isn’t really a crime, it’s only “in the nature of a crime”. Contempt charges are brought by an application to court, not by an information laid by the police or a complainant. There are different procedural rules. A finding of contempt isn’t really a “conviction”.

I think these distinctions are bogus. If it looks like a duck, and quacks like a duck, and can send you to prison like a duck,  the law should treat it like a duck.

Siemer is appealing the no-jury ruling to the Court of Appeal and the case is scheduled to be heard in December. Rodney Harrison QC has been appointed as an amicus, so the fate of our contempt laws will not hinge on Siemer’s ability to mount a complex legal argument without pissing off the judges…

Topics: Contempt of Court, NZ Bill of Rights Act | 25 Comments »

25 Responses to “CA to rule on right to jury in contempt cases”

  1. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    November 3rd, 2008 at 2:44 pm

    Excellent. With any luck they’ll get Hammond – or anyone who will pick up on Hammond’s view, expressed not long before he got bumped up, in Rawlinson v Purnell Jenkison & Roscoe [1999] 1 NZLR 479 – which was, interestingly, also a matter with a litigant in person:

    This jury scrupulously followed my directions, even though it was (quite properly) made obvious by them that they were sorely disappointed by the performance of the legal system in this case. I should perhaps add, by way of explanation, that at one point the jury sent out a question for me: “can we award damages even in the absence of malice?” To which I replied: “no”. Then the jury asked, “can we add a comment to our verdict?” To which I replied, that they had that historic right “but great caution is required”.

    I thought my jury showed an exemplary appreciation, and responsibility, in the discharge of its duties. And, given the recent adverse comment on civil juries by Giles J in M v L [1998] 3 NZLR 104, it may be appropriate to note that this trial – set down for three weeks – came in, in five days, and with a litigant in person as the plaintiff.

  2. Graeme Edgeler Says:
    November 3rd, 2008 at 4:30 pm

    “The maximum penalty for contempt is indefinite imprisonment.”

    P.S. Let’s not forget that this isn’t just some completely theoretical maximum – it’s the penalty that what was actually sought!

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