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Courts a priority for this government

Hon Rick Barker
Minister for Courts

29 April 2008
Media Statement
Courts a priority for this government

Courts Minister, Rick Barker has welcomed the invitation from National Courts spokesperson, Kate Wilkinson to outline the steps the government is taking to address the issue of Court waiting times and stays of proceeding.

"Unlike the previous National government, we have invested heavily in the Courts and in Court infrastructure. This government values the administration of justice and is working hard to ensure all New Zealanders have modern, safe, and timely access to Court services. Our Courts are better placed than ever to respond to increasing workloads," Mr Barker said.

"There has been an increase in both the number of Courtrooms and the number of Judges under this government. An extra 15 Judges have been appointed to the District Court, 2 to the High Court and 2 in the Court of Appeal. 24 new Courtrooms have been inserted into the court system since 2000.

"As part of Budget 2005 we initiated a Baseline Review and this saw $156 million invested in revitalising Court infrastructure and capability. This investment has got results. In the 2006/07-year 75 per cent of cases in the criminal summary jurisdiction of the District Court were resolved within 12 weeks.

"This funding has enabled our Courts to dispose of more cases. In the 2006/07 year jury trial disposals in the High Court improved by 9.4 per cent over the previous two year period to 339 cases, and this is mirrored in the District Court where disposals improved by 8 per cent over the same period to approximately 165,000 cases.

"We have expanded digital evidence recording and transcription services, and it is estimated that this technology will reduce court hearing time by between 20-30 per cent. A recent case at the Wellington High Court was transcribed using the new technology and this was a key factor in reducing the length of the trial from an expected eight weeks to four weeks. We have introduced videoconferencing at 8 sites and are exploring greater use of e-filing, following the successful implementation of e-filing of infringements.

"Since 1999, 41 building projects have been completed. This includes 5 new Courthouses and 28 refurbishments. Courthouses are a point of civic pride for local communities and this government is prepared to invest in them, unlike the previous National government.

"One stay is one too many and in every case I ask for a detailed review in order to identify why the stay occurred and if processes can be improved. However, it is worth noting that in the 2006/07 year our courts disposed of over 165,000 cases during the last year in comparison to 18 stays granted during the same period. 9 were systemic, 8 were prosecutorial and 1 was systemic and prosecutorial.

"In addition not all waiting time in the Court system should automatically be classed as delay, there are a number of steps involved in bringing a case to trial and all parties are entitled to prepare and present their case. While it is very easy to blame the Court for delays, such a simplistic approach ignores the fact that Court staff are required to coordinate the judiciary, prosecution, defence, witnesses, victims, scientific and special evidence and in some cases jurors. Any of these parties may have reasons for being unable to attend on the agreed day for reasons such as sickness, and this is often beyond the direct control of the Court.

"Our Courts and Court staff are responding to increased pressure due to increased workloads. It seems a bit rich for Kate Wilkinson to complain about more people being brought before the Courts, while talking in the same breath about issues of public safety," Mr Barker said.


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