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Isaac Davison

Isaac Davison is a NZ Herald political reporter.

Court reforms cut criminal case time

File photo / NZ Herald
File photo / NZ Herald

Court reforms which cut the number of jury trials have helped to reduce the length of time that criminal cases languished in Auckland's courts by an average of 33 days, new figures show.

All courts made a number of major changes last year in an attempt to cut delays - including a move from paper to electronic filing - and Courts Minister Chester Borrows said that the difference was now being noticed.

He said that the single measure by which courts were judged was how long it took for a case to move through the system.

Ministry of Justice data showed that the "average age"of a case - the time that it remained active - had fallen by 18.3 per cent, or 23 days, across the country in the eight months to December.

Jury trials now had an average age of 367 days, criminal cases 101 days and civil cases 210 days.

Court delays have also been eased by a falling crime rate, which has been trending downwards over 10 years.

In Auckland, the average age of a criminal case had fallen by 21 per cent, or 33 days. The time that a jury trial remained active fell by nearly 7 per cent to 430 days.

However, the length of time that it took to clear civil and family cases had increased in most Auckland courts. In Pukekohe, the average age of civil cases had increased by nearly 20 per cent since the changes began.

Labour's justice spokesman Andrew Little said that lawyers were telling him Family Court reforms which came into force last year had contributed to greater delays. He also said that the number of people representing themselves in court had increased, and this had made delays worse.

When the Criminal Procedure Act was passed, it was estimated that the changes would reduce the time it took to resolve a court cases by six to nine weeks.

Some of the changes were controversial. Restricting jury trials to offences with maximum penalties of two years or more was criticised for limiting people's rights to justice. The threshold for electing a jury was previously three months.

Mr Borrows said today that he had focused his attention on making the system work faster, "without compromising a just outcome".

Other changes included reducing the number of pre-trial court appearances and allowing people to plead guilty or be sentenced without appearing in court.

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Average age of court cases

-Criminal jury trials

Northern Auckland (Auckland Central, North Shore, Waitakere): 430 days (-6.7 per cent since April 2013)

Southern Auckland (Manukau, Pukekohe, Papakura): 384 days (-12.2 per cent)

-All criminal cases

Northern Auckland: 136 days (-17.8 per cent)

Southern Auckland: 100 days (-27.1 per cent)

-Civil cases

Northern Auckland: 254 days (+0.3 per cent)

Southern Auckland: 200 days (+6.3 per cent)

-Disputes Tribunal

Northern Auckland: 71 days (-16 per cent)

Southern Auckland: 62 days (-27.4 per cent)

-Family cases

Northern Auckland: 309 days (+3.6 per cent per cent)

Southern Auckland: 285 days (-0.5 per cent)

- NZ Herald

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