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Alternative to prosecuting minor offending in Christchurch

Alternative to prosecuting minor offending introduced in Christchurch

Police and the Justice sector are working to reduce pressure on disrupted services in the wake of the February earthquake in Christchurch.

One police initiative is a change in the way in which some minor offending is prosecuted in list cases waiting to be dealt with in the Christchurch District Court.

The Canterbury earthquake alternative resolution of minor prosecutions policy takes effect from this week. The New Zealand Police Prosecution Service consulted with the Ministry of Justice, members of the Christchurch judiciary and courts staff over implementation of the policy.

People waiting to have their cases heard for some minor offences which took place before the 22 February earthquake, may instead be dealt with by a police formal warning and the charge/s withdrawn. It does not apply to offending after the earthquake on 22 February.

Christchurch Police will continue to take a very firm line with anyone who attempts to take criminal advantage of people affected by the earthquake.

“This remains a stressful time for people all over the city. We will not be tolerating any offending that victimises people already suffering the ongoing impact of the earthquakes,” said Superintendent Dave Cliff, Canterbury District Commander.

Superintendent Craig Tweedie, National Manager of the Police Prosecution Service, said that the Christchurch alternative resolution policy has a strict eligibility criteria to meet before police prosecutors consider offering a defendant alternative resolution. Not everyone will meet the evidential and public interest test threshold.

"The facts of some offences are simply too serious or there are public interest considerations which mean that a prosecution will continue."

Where a prosecution meets the criteria for alternative resolution, police prosecutors discuss this with the defendant at court outlining the process and requirement to sign a formal warning notice. If agreed to an application is then made to the Court seeking to withdraw the charge.

If the defendant refuses to sign, then the case will be prosecuted. The alternative option only applies where all the charges faced by the defendant meet the criteria.

“We believe the policy is sufficiently robust that it will hold offenders accountable for minor crime, but also meet the priorities and needs of the justice sector, including the community.

“It speeds up the process for people who have been waiting to have list cases called, reduces the number of active prosecutions awaiting resolution, puts less pressure on everyone in the justice sector and the people of Christchurch and also means local Christchurch Police can focus on preventing crime.”

He said the only difference between the Christchurch policy and the already existing national alternative resolution process is that the Christchurch one is applied post charge instead of pre charge.

Ministry of Justice General Manager of District Courts, Tony Fisher, said the policy would assist the court and make a contribution to justice in Christchurch. It showed the justice sector continued to work together to provide justice services, as it had since the earthquake.

The policy’s introduction coincides with the resumption of court list hearings in Christchurch at the Canterbury National Marae Nga Hau e Wha in Pages Road, Aranui.

“By removing the need for some minor offences to be heard by a judge, higher numbers of defendants will be before the list court, and the court can deal with more serious offending. Both of these results will be positive for the people of Christchurch as well as for the justice sector.”

People who are aware that they have cases pending and who may have relocated to another address in Canterbury or elsewhere since the February earthquake should contact the Ministry of Justice on 0800 324 627 to confirm their next appearance date.


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