The Royal prerogative of mercy has been an important constitutional safeguard in New Zealand's criminal justice system, providing a special avenue for criminal cases to be re-opened where a person may have been wrongly convicted or sentenced.
On 1 July 2020, there was an important change that affects people who want to apply to re-open a criminal case.
On 1 July 2020, the Criminal Cases Review Commission Act 2019 came into force. The Act established the Criminal Cases Review Commission (CCRC) as an independent Crown entity to investigate possible miscarriages of justice. If the CCRC considers a miscarriage of justice may have occurred, it can refer the conviction or sentence back to the courts for a further appeal.
This function replaces the referral function formerly performed by the Governor-General under section 406 of the Crimes Act 1961. Section 406 of the Crimes Act has now been repealed.
The Governor-General retains the power to exercise the Royal prerogative of mercy as set out in the Letters Patent Constituting the Office of the Governor-General 1983, including the powers to grant a free or conditional pardon, suspend the execution of any sentence, or remit a sentence.
You can find further information about the Royal prerogative of mercy on the Governor-General's website:
From 1945 to 2020, the Governor-General had the ability to refer convictions and sentences back to the Court of Appeal under s 406 of the Crimes Act. This power was a statutory adjunct to the Royal prerogative of mercy. As noted above, the referral power has now been transferred to the CCRC.
You can find information about historical applications for the Royal prerogative of mercy on our website:
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