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New regulations to help get P cases moving

Hon Rick Barker
Minister for Courts

July 2008
Media Statement

New regulations to help get P cases moving

Courts Minister Rick Barker has today outlined regulatory changes resulting from the Criminal Procedure Act aimed at freeing up High Court sitting time.

Regulations which came in effect on Friday 18 July mean that Class A drug cases, including methamphetamine cases, can now be heard in the District Court, instead of always being sent to the High Court.

"P or meth is a scourge in our communities and it is also a significant load on court resources and sitting time," Mr Barker said.

"The passing of the Criminal Procedure Bill has enabled the government to enact regulations which will give the judiciary greater flexibility in deciding where meth cases should be heard."

As of May this year, roughly half of the criminal cases awaiting trial in the High Court were methamphetamine related cases. The changes made will allow for less complex and lower end Class A drug offences to be heard in the District Court.

"This will free up High Court time to deal with more serious and complex cases both in the criminal and civil jurisdictions including some more serious sexual violence and serious violence cases which are currently being dealt with at a District Court level."

In 2003 methamphetamine was reclassified from a Class B to a Class A drug to reflect health and social harm caused to individuals and communities as a result of the use of this drug.

"Classifying P as a Class A drug reflected the government's and the communities concern over its devastating impact on New Zealand society. However, this had a major impact on the ability of these cases to move through the court system. This regulation change is one part of a wider process of reform to address this issue. I am confident that this change, alongside the other changes in the Criminal Procedure Bill will result in better access to justice for all New Zealanders.

"The changes made do not mean that P and other class A drug offending is being treated any less seriously. The sentencing options available to judges and the classification have not changed.

"All Class A drug cases will still be committed to the High Court first. A High Court judge will make the decision about whether a case should be returned to the District Court for trial or be retained by the High Court. The intention is that the more serious cases involving importation and multiple accused will generally be heard in the High Court, and less complex cases will be returned to the District Court," Mr Barker said.

The Regulations include a transitional provision, which allows cases that have been committed to the High Court and are awaiting the commencement of a trial to be re-committed to the District Court. New cases received by the High Court after Friday 18 July will be able to be referred to the District Court on a decision from a High Court Judge.

--


Q and A’s for middle banding Class A drug offences


Does this mean that the government is not taking methamphetamine, or P, cases seriously?

Methamphetamine is a Class A drug and this classification hasn’t changed. What has changed is that now cases involving methamphetamine can be heard in either the High Court or the District Court, whichever is more appropriate.

Will offenders get off more lightly if they are only going to the District Court?

The sentencing options available to judges for those found guilty of offences involving methamphetamine haven’t changed, just the court in which the cases can be heard.

How will they decide which cases go to the High Court and which ones go to the District Court?

All Class A drug cases will still be committed to the High Court first. A High Court judge will make the decision about whether a case should be returned to the District Court for trial or be retained by the High Court. The intention is that the more serious cases involving importation and multiple accused will generally be heard in the High Court, and less complex cases will be returned to the District Court.

What is the benefit of this change to the High Court?

The increasing number of methamphetamine cases coming before the High Court has contributed to a significant rise in cases waiting for trial. As at 31 May 2008 there were 245 cases waiting to be heard in the High Court and 121 or 49.3% of these were methamphetamine related cases. Many of these cases are less complex and are more suited to be tried in the District Court.

By giving High Court judges the ability to return appropriate cases to the District Court we are freeing up time and resources in the High Court to deal with more serious criminal cases and civil proceedings.


What will the change mean to the District Courts?

The Judiciary and Ministry of Justice are discussing ways to manage the impact on the current District Court workload, including a transition period to manage Class A drug cases already committed to the High Court. Waiting times at each court vary widely and the impact of returning Class A drug cases to the District Court will need to be assessed over time.

Most serious Class A drug cases are likely to remain with the High Court, such as gang-related cases where there are multiple accused. Cases most likely to be heard in the District Court are less complex cases such as possession of a Class A drug, involving only one defendant where the trials will take less time.

With the freeing up of capacity in the High Court, other cases such as serious sexual violence and violence cases, many of which are currently being referred to the District Court, will be able to be retained and tried by the High Court.


What other Class A drug cases are affected by this change?

All Class A drug cases are affected by this change, however other types of Class A cases are small in number.


ENDS

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