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Susan Couch denied a jury in $500k RSA killings damages case

BUSINESSDESK: Susan Couch, the woman gravely injured in the Panmure RSA attack by William Bell that left three others dead has been denied her lawful request for a jury to hear the case.

In the Auckland High Court, Justice Timothy Brewer ruled that the trial would involve "consideration of difficult questions of law" not suited to a jury.

"The issues are not likely to be issues of fact but issues as to how the law responds to the facts," Justice Brewer says.

"The facts to be established, and the light in which they are to be viewed, might have to be determined by successive rulings on the law, which would unreasonably complicate the task of a jury.

"This is not a case suited to trial by jury."

Ms Couch is suing the attorney-general on behalf of the Department of Corrections, the defendant, for exemplary damages of $500,000.

Her cause of action is that Bell was on parole at the time of his deadly attack on the RSA.

By turning down Ms Couch's July 2011 request, the decision overrides Section 19A of the Judicature Act 1908 which provides that certain civil proceedings may be tried by a jury in cases including where pecuniary damages are sought.

Justice Brewer ruled that wasn't an absolute right and could be overruled by a judge making "a common-sense decision as to whether a civil proceeding is suitable for trial by jury".

Comments and questions

Not a problem.Some time ago Winston Peters said he had set up a trust fund for Susan Couch.Wonder how much she has gotten out of the kind gesture by Winston Peters.

Whatever the outcome I hope that Susan is compensated for what she has had to endure. I am 100% supportive of her being entitled to my tax providing that compensation. It would mean my tax actually mattered when everybody else seems to be entitled to it.

How about we put a bullet though Bells head and give Susan Couch the $500k it would have cost the taxpayer to keep him in prison for the next 5 years, then its a win win all round.

Someone should OIA Crown Law and find out how much has the Crown spent on defending this claim. It is outrageous that they haven't settled with her. No-one would begrudge her the money, and if it sets a precedent of the Crown paying out when they horribly screw up, then that would be no bad thing.

if Brewer is the judge, she wont win, one of nz most biased judges is Brewer, yes man to certain people

How presumptuous of this judge Brewer to think the great unwashed can't understand or comprehend legal arguments.
What an absolute disgrace and travesty of 'justice'. NZ really is going down the pan by any measure of a western-based civilized society.

This is a perfect example of why judges should be elected into office

Can this decision be appealed? Perhaps NBR could fund Susan's appeal??

this is why they should note mate, i know this geezer believe me he is the wrong man

another nail in the coffin of our failed justice system!

Interesting that this disgusting insult to a woman who has suffered greatly because of state incompetence....the list is too long, but think leaky houses, Vietnam, the farmer with the road bridge etc....props up a column of daily stories......headed by: NEW ZEALANDERS SHAFTED BY FRAUDULENT JUSTICE SYSTEM, SAYS TOP QC.
And so say all of us!

He should be treated how he treated his victims, I will pull the triger.

The arrogance of Mr. Brewer in this matter is alarming and disturbing, and will leave people wondering what relationships he may have with indivduals in Crown Law.

Paul, you know , like I this guy should never have been made a judge, just another old school rise up the ranks, he is in cohoots with all the Right people ,so he thinks, hope he rots in hell

Seems the activist judges in NZ have us all under their ,they know best attitude.Even wreaks of activism in the so called highest court in the land .Supreme Court. Hmmmm

There are so many things wrong with people's comments on this article. I don't really know where to begin.

For a start, Justice (note, Justice, not Judge) Brewer is not being "presumptuous" in deciding a jury cannot deal with questions of law. A jury is only entitled to deal with questions of fact. Questions of law are dealt with by a judge. Clearly, there is no dispute as to the facts in this case - the whole country knows the facts. The dispute will be over applying the law to the facts. That is a judge's domain.

If someone can explain to me how applying a law that makes perfect sense and requires a legally trained judge to deal with questions of law is a miscarriage of justice, or demonstrates judicial bias or anything of the sort I would love to hear from them.

If anything, a miscarriage of justice would be a 12 non legally trained jurors deciding questions of law.

If I understand it correctly, this case is the first of its kind to heard in a NZ court and with all due respects to Justice Brewer, he is a relatively inexperienced judge. As this case is the first of its kind and is likely to be influenced by a number of points of law, then it should (at the very least), be heard by a bench of x 3 judges and/or, assisted by a lay person.

Your statement “ If someone can explain to me how applying a law that makes perfect sense’, I think answer's your own question as to why this should be a trial by jury (or, is your entire sentence an oxymoron?)

As for judicial bias, yes, I have seen it at the highest level (and I am also in possession of an Appeal Court judgement that includes a ruling that a High Court Judge failed to apply even basic principals of law).

I strongly disagree with this ruling by Justice Brewer in this matter, and it may well be in breach of the Human Rights Act

A case at first instance cannot be heard by three judges. You also cannot have a lay person on the bench (apart from in a few specific types of cases, such as under the Commerce Act). So you're advocating a complete change in how our courts operate just because you feel sorry for someone? Don't get me wrong, what happened to Susan Couch is absolutely terrible, and should not have happened. That doesn't mean the law should operate differently for her.

Unfortunately you haven't understood what I was saying - the law that "makes perfect sense" I mention is the law that says juries dealswith questions of fact, and judges deal with questions of law. By contrast, the law of negligence that Susan Couch will be arguing is incredibly difficult and complicated, and even some of the top judges in the Commonwealth have struggled with it over the years - it is not the domain of a jury.

Yes, there is judicial bias from time to time. But it is, by and large, rare, and there is no evidence of it in this case. A ruling that a High Court judge did not apply basic principles (not principals) of law by the Court of Appeal does not indicate bias. It indicates the appeal process working like it should.

I would be interested to see how this breaches the Human Rights Act, which prohibits discrimination on certain grounds.