Court changes aim to sharpen system

By Anna Ferrick

Significant overhauls in the court system, aimed at reducing the time it takes to process cases, came into effect throughout the country yesterday.

The changes are part of the Criminal Procedure Act which was passed in 2011 and are expected to eliminate more than 10,000 unnecessary sitting hours every year.

Information released by the Ministry of Justice shows it can take more than a year for a district court jury trial to be resolved and about 70 weeks for a high court jury trial.

However, New Zealand law society criminal law sub-committee convener Jonathan Krebs said yesterday the changes were good in theory but may have a few downsides in reality.

"Doing things quickly doesn't always mean doing them better," he said.

Defendants would now be required to enter a plea 10 to 15 days after receiving a copy of their charges and a summary of facts from the police, but often a lot more information was required before a plea decision could be made, he said.

"It will put immense pressure on the police and prosecution to provide information within the time limits."

Mr Krebs said only time would tell whether the changes would reduce the time it took to get cases through the courts.

"Lawyers generally will do their best to make it work, as will court staff and police."

The changes are expected to reduce the average time it takes to resolve a court case by six to nine weeks, as well as reduce the number of jury trials by at least 350 a year.

Ministry of Justice service delivery manager Mick Lander, who is responsible for the Hawke's Bay region, said the changes were the biggest the courts had seen for decades.

"The benefits are well worth having. There is a real emphasis on the prosecution and defence meeting outside of court and discussing the case, so by the time it gets in front of a judge or jury they are ready to present their evidence," Mr Lander said.

The changes would mean fewer wasted appearances when cases were not progressed, quicker disposal times and generally a more efficient system.

"This is good for everyone in the system but especially for people who are in court through no fault of their own, like victims, witnesses and their families," he said.

As part of the changes, the courts will no longer be required to keep paper records meaning police will be able to electronically file charging documents from the station rather than having to take paper copies to the court house.

Later stages will see corrections staff submit pre-sentence reports electronically, with judges able to view case information and record decisions electronically.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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