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Barker: Auckland Service Delivery Programme

Rick Barker

28 October, 2008
Auckland Service Delivery Programme

I'm pleased to be here in the Auckland District courthouse, which as we have heard is about to undergo major renovations on a scale not seen before.

On the building side, I think you will know that I am a strong supporter of the redevelopment of our courthouses and have visited a good many over the last few years. It is important to remember that not everyone who comes to court is happy to be here. For many, it is a time of great stress and in some cases sorrow. The physical environment court users find themselves in can either greatly add to or reduce that stress.

There has been a major push to make sure our courthouses are up to scratch, and are able to provide the services required by their community now, as well as meet the expected needs into the future.

It is exciting to be here in the Auckland District Court today at the start of this building project.

While this upgrade is part of the Ministry of Justice's ongoing property improvement strategy, it is also one component of the wider Auckland Service Delivery Programme which is developing both short and long term initiatives to ensure the delivery of improved justice services to the region's growing population.

Some facts and figures.

As we all know, Auckland is this country's largest population base with over 1.3 million people living in the Auckland region. The population increased by 12.4% between the 2001 Census and the last one held in 2006. Almost a third of New Zealand's population live, work and play in the Auckland region. And it is expected to keep growing.

From a justice perspective, currently 35% of all reported crime in New Zealand occurs in Auckland. On any average week, the District Courts in Auckland and Manukau have 17 new jury trials committed. New cases filed in all the District Courts in the Auckland regions have increased in the last four years, on average by 32%. Even if there is no change in the per capita offending rates, the growth in population will bring a predicted 20 to 30% growth in criminal case volumes over the next 20 years.

With continuing population growth and changes in the make-up of the population, it adds up to one big challenge for Auckland's court services.

A modern court has a wide range of functions as well as a wide range of court users. There are criminal, civil and family cases, specialist courts and tribunals, who all bring with them victims, witnesses, defendants and supporters. Court services have to meet the needs of all these different people in a way that is relevant to them, in surroundings that are fit for purpose. In Auckland it is a challenge to achieve these outcomes within the present physical constraints as well as within the current operational arrangements.

In response to this changing environment, the Ministry of Justice commenced a project looking at the long-term service delivery needs for Greater Auckland in November 2006. They looked at issues with court services and consciously moved outside the traditional court ‘square' to identify new opportunities and options for the Auckland court system as a whole.

Key initiatives being explored include new facilities to support civil and family work, a service centre for inbound and outbound calling and bulk processing, purpose built jury trial facilities and new technology to support court processes.

Both short and long term initiatives are being considered to ensure we have both the physical resources - courthouses and infrastructure - and the human resources needed in the right places, to ensure that Auckland courts are well placed to serve their communities.

Most importantly we aim to address workload pressures and capacity issues, and create a vision for the future delivery of services in Auckland.

What will the new Auckland courts model look like? Funding of $6.3 million in the 2008 Budget has enabled the Ministry to engage in detailed design and planning for this project.

This will cover the detailed design and development of full business cases around establishing

* four court precincts
* a shared services centre
* and a community justice centre.

By grouping like-services we believe we can optimise the use of specialists and specialist resources, which should make things more efficient for court users and improve the value of services provided.

Before going into detail about these initiatives I would like to mention the invaluable input we have had from agencies across the justice sector in looking at this challenging issue.

We've had consultation across government agencies such as Corrections, Police, the Legal Services Agency, the Law Commission and Ministry of Social Development. Those playing key roles within the running of the court system, such as the judiciary, the law society and the criminal bar association have provided input and an important point of view.

Other interested parties such as Auckland local authorities have had the chance to pass on their views and vision for this city.

Progress would not have been made without the commitment of these people and groups to supporting the project and its outcomes.

Consultation will be an ongoing focus, to keep stakeholders up to date with progress, to discuss the next phase and to keep everyone in the loop on how we plan to address the various issues and challenges.

A court precinct will see a separation of court work into dedicated courthouses. The consolidation of non-criminal caseloads such as civil and family court cases will ensure the facilities can be tailored to meet their needs, and offer a more pleasant and less intimidating environment in which to resolve their cases.

Other courts will focus on criminal cases, and dedicated jury trial courthouses will consolidate indictable jurisdiction caseloads into purpose-built facilities. More cells will allow for better segregation of young and vulnerable people in custody.

This separation will see improved safety and security for victims, jurors and witnesses and other agencies who support court users.

Extended assistance will be available through a shared service centre. This centre will handle in-bound and out-bound calling, bulk customer enquiries, high volume correspondence and routine applications.

More information will be made available on the Internet, while face-to-face assistance will still be available for those who need it.

By taking in-bound and out-bound calling and back-office processing out of courthouses we will improve our responsiveness to court users and free up space which can be used for hearing rooms or to house specialist services.

The service centre could become a one-stop-shop where people can access a range of standard court services in a timely manner, provided by both the Ministry.

We are exploring the possibility of establishing a Community Justice Centre in South Auckland. This would provide connected services to meet the specific needs of the community, including social services to address background factors in lower-level criminal offending.

It is also hoped that this would encourage greater community participation in finding solutions that work in their neighbourhood.

Technology is changing all the time, and we need to harness the changes that will deliver us efficiencies in our processes and improve our service delivery. We will continue to develop the use of electronic filing which was introduced for infringement notices in 2007.

Expanding the use of this award-winning technology will reduce the current duplication of paper and electronic records, enhance access to information, and allow greater throughput of matters through the courts.

A simple example of how electronic filing could be used is by removing the Criminal Information Sheet from the criminal summary process. Police manually swear 50,000 of these sheets each year, in person, at courthouses throughout greater Auckland. Most of the charge details are also received electronically, so if we can remove the manual step in the process we will free up both Police and court staff.

What we are trying to achieve is the delivery of first class justice services in the face of increasing demand.

The Auckland Service Delivery Project aims to provide for faster justice, especially for victims and defendants in criminal matters as we deliver the capacity to meet forecast demand for court services for the next 15 years.

The courts will provide more accessible services for general users in a way that does not clog up the workflow of the system.

Improved safety and security will be achieved through more effective separation of the various parties attending court, including victims, jurors, and witnesses.

Efficiencies can be gained both through the use of a service centre and smarter use of technology.

Over time we will be implementing an operating model with more flexibility and scalability, allowing the courts to deal better with complex cases. Greater uniformity in services and facilities will make it easier to adapt services where required.

We are starting with the bricks and mortar, as building projects have a long lead-in and completion timeframe.

The Ministry of Justice has a conditional contract to purchase strategic land in Waitakere city to provide for a replacement court facility, large enough to deliver jury-capable facilities if required.

The Manukau City Council would like the court to stay in its current location, providing the Ministry with expansion opportunities to complete a justice sector precinct which could include Ministry of Justice, NZ Police and Probation Services. The council sees the justice precinct as a key part of its plans to revitalise the city centre. The Ministry wants to acquire adjoining land to the current courthouse facility in Manukau to meet current and future growth requirements, it is working closely with the Manukau City Council on this project.

Space in Geni-I House in central Auckland will be used for specialist courts and tribunals, giving practical effect to the concept of a precinct arrangement which is a key strand of the Auckland strategy.

This building is next to the Auckland District Court and it has been leased by the Ministry to consolidate and house special jurisdiction functions such as Coroners, Employment Court and Environment Court which are currently dispersed throughout the Auckland District Court and the CBD. The space they free up in the building provides the headroom required to undertake the Auckland District Court upgrade project.

The upgrade of the Auckland District Court is part of the Ministry's ongoing property improvement strategy and just one component of the Ministry's wider Auckland Service Delivery Programme.

The objectives of the project are to increase the number of jury capable courtrooms, provide custodial access to existing courtrooms, provide a multi-defendant courtroom and improve building security by providing a single building entry.

The project involves reconfiguration of the ground floor and levels 2, 3 and 5. The building will not be extended, however level 5 which is currently vacant, will be utilised for court purposes. This redevelopment will result in an additional 1,129 square metres for the District Court.

The guiding principle is to maintain business continuity and minimise disruption during the building work. Construction work will be implemented progressively and managed in phases to ensure the judicial processes can continue uninterrupted as much as possible.

A programme has been established to ensure that an alternative courtroom is established before an existing courtroom is deactivated.

It's a big building project, with a myriad of complexities but we expect the upgrade to be completed in 2010.

The next few slides provide a summary of what the upgrade will deliver.

Upgraded courtroom facilities will provide improved capacity and capability, including:

* increased overall area of the building used by courts by 1,129 m2
* 3 more courtrooms able to accommodate jury trials moving from the current 5 to 8 and
* a new multi-defendant courtroom, which are in demand for gang and P-related trials.

We will see improved custodial access to a number of courtrooms and increased number of holding cells, increasing the level of safety. Custody capable courtrooms will increase from 4 to 6.

There will also be construction of a new suite of civil courtrooms, settlement conference rooms, civil registry and administration space for associated functions on level 5.

Jurors will benefit from enhanced jury assembly space on the ground floor, accommodating up to 300 jurors in a secure environment with kitchen and toilet facilities.

There will be a secure witness area on level 3 with greater comfort and support for victims and witnesses.

The new victims advisory space will have improved facilities and most importantly upgraded security.

Other features include improved security for the court as a whole with a single public entry and new security lobby, improved way-finding information to help people get around the court easily and upgrades to building services such as air-conditioning.

An initial phase of work has already been completed, involving improvements to lifts and stairwells together with the upgrade of carpets and seating on the building's main courtroom floors.

The major work commenced in September, and involves the progressive upgrading of the interior space, implementing a modern design that makes better use of the building and improves how people access and circulate through it.

Opus Architecture's designers worked closely with the Ministry of Justice to develop a sustainable building design that will improve the functionality of the building and the quality of the environment experienced by those people working in or visiting the court.

The design-thinking was directed at assisting the functioning of the courts by

* projecting the authority of the court and the seriousness of justice processes
* providing a modern well equipped court which gives the public confidence in their ‘day in court' through emphasising fairness and openness of the judicial process
* increasing security for the people who work within or visit the building.

Staff, judiciary, and other agencies have had, and will continue to have, significant involvement in developing and testing the proposed initiatives in Auckland.

I commend the hard work and innovative approach by staff and judges across all courts in the Auckland region to make the system more streamlined and efficient.

I am confident that the investment of $6.3 million over two years will lay the groundwork for improving court capacity and resources in Auckland, our largest city. The funding to deliver the redevelopment of Auckland District Court, the lease of the Gen-i Tower and for land purchases in Manukau and Waitakere, are the first steps on a pathway forward in taking action to increase capacity for the needs of court users now and into the future as Auckland grows.


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