Court hearings in Northland are going high-tech with the use of video technology.
A recent hearing in the High Court at Whangarei was dealt with via an audio-visual link (AVL) between a judge sitting in Auckland and, on the other end of the link, lawyers and a prisoner appearing hundreds of kilometres away in Whangarei.
The judge appeared on a television screen and was able to see and hear the lawyers involved in the case.
It was the first time the technology had been used in Northland but officials say it will soon make a regular appearance, saving not only money but time.
Ministry of Justice General Manager Higher Courts Paula Tesoriero said there was no resident judge at the High Court in Whangarei and many hours were spent travelling for hearings that could only last for 15 minutes.
"We are in the process of rolling out this technology to the combined District and High Courts around the country so that judges based in the three main High Court registries can participate in hearings without having to travel to the court where the judge considers that appropriate," Ms Tesoriero said.
"The use of video link technology like this is part of a range of efforts to modernise and improve court processes."
Also on the cards is using the audio visual links between court and prisons so defendants on remand can appear in court before a judge without having to leave prison.
It has been successfully trialled in Auckland and is set to be used in Ngawha Prison in May next year.
Corrections Minister Anne Tolley and Courts Minister Chester Borrows announced earlier this year $27.8 million would be spent on the expansion of audio-visual links to 14 District Courts and nine prisons.
It would enable courts to connect to prisons anywhere in the country.
Approximately 40,000 remand court appearances are made each year and, where installed, AVL is expected to be used in a significant number of these.
"There are enormous benefits to be gained by using AVL to allow prisoners to appear before a judge without leaving the secure confine of prison grounds, and it has already saved over 8000 external prisoner trips to and from courts," Mrs Tolley said.
"The risks associated with transporting prisoners outside the wire - to the public, Corrections and court staff - are completely removed, along with any risk of escape." It also meant Corrections and Police did not have to spend valuable time planning, carrying out, or funding escort duties from prison to court and back again.
Judges will continue to have discretion to require prisoners to appear in court.