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Praise for Environment Court as backlog slashed

8 December 2003 Media Statement

Praise for Environment Court as backlog slashed

The Environment Court backlog has been slashed from more than 3000 cases in 2001 to 1596 in October 2003, Environment Minister Marian Hobbs said today.
It's expected that that number will be cut even further over the next few months.

The improvements have been assisted through new funding for an extra judge and new resourcing for case management.

"Delays in hearings had the potential to slow development decisions, and were creating frustration and uncertainty for many resource consent applicants," Marian Hobbs said. "Reducing the backlog is the first step in reducing the waiting time for hearings.

"Over the next three years, an additional $1.5m per year will be used to update the court's Information Technology systems, enhance case management systems, provide additional hearing days, training for Environment Commissioners, and digital evidence recording.

"Digital recording of evidence has already resulted in a 50 percent time saving on hearing days for the Tongariro Power Station case currently underway."

The Environment Court caseload grew from what was a manageable workload of 443 cases in 1993 to well over 3000 in 2001. Between 1997 and 2001, more cases were lodged than were disposed of – leading to increasingly longer hearing delays. Around 1100 new cases are lodged each year.

"The government is committed – as part of its efforts to support the RMA process – to ensuring the Environment Court is properly resourced to do its job. This additional funding is making a difference," Marian Hobbs said

Currently, the average wait for cases before the court is about 20 months, but the aim is to reduce that to less then six months.

"New referrals to the Environment Court should be lifted for hearing within six months rather than delayed for years," the minister said. "We have all the tools in place to make that aim a reality."

Marian Hobbs said the shorter delays are already being noticed.

"During a recent Ministry for the Environment roadshow we received plenty of positive feedback about the improvements to delays at the Environment Court," Marian Hobbs said. "Comments included that the reduction in delays has been very noticeable and that the mediation service is great – comments we're very pleased to hear.”

ENDS

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