The percentage of court cases in the Rotorua area which end in convictions is higher than at any time in the last 35 years.

More than 87 per cent of court cases last year in Rotorua, Taupo, Tokoroa and Taumaranui resulted in convictions - the highest figure since data became available in 1980.

Rotorua barrister and former president of the New Zealand Law Society Jonathan Temm said the figure was too high and indicated a problem with the justice system.

"It's heading the wrong way. Our level should be constantly around the 75 per cent mark, and anything over 80 per cent is a reflection that people are pleading guilty to things that in the past they would not have been convicted of," Mr Temm said.

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Mr Temm said the legal aid system was "massively under-funded" and eligibility was too low, which has resulted in a growing number of people representing themselves in court.

"They're not trained in the law. You get a corresponding rise in convictions where they may be pleading guilty to things which they are not culpable."

In 2011, the Ministry of Justice announced a target of reducing crime by 15 per cent by 2017. However, prosecutions in the region have already dropped 30per cent since the announcement. Mr Temm said the Government was still pursuing serious crime, but the resolution rates for crimes such as burglary were at "appalling" levels.

 Rotorua Courthouse.
Rotorua Courthouse.

Police association president Greg O'Connor said higher success rates in court were due to fewer low-level offenders being prosecuted - instead being given pre-charge warnings.

Since 2011, nationwide prosecution and conviction numbers have dropped 28 per cent and 27per cent respectively, which he said had led to a potential long-term crime crisis.

"Police have way overshot," Mr O'Connor said. "I don't think anyone believes the behaviour on the street has improved at all. I don't think anybody believes there are fewer people offending or that there's less lower level offending taking place.

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"One of the problems is now you have a generation of people who have grown up understanding that actually there are no real consequences for a lot of behaviours, other than the inconvenience of being dragged back to a police station and kicked out an hour later. They have no fear of the system."

More than 87 per cent of court cases last year in Rotorua, Taupo, Tokoroa and Taumaranui resulted in convictions.
More than 87 per cent of court cases last year in Rotorua, Taupo, Tokoroa and Taumaranui resulted in convictions.

Mr O'Connor said he was unsure how the long-term effects of pre-charge warnings would balance out against the short-term benefits. "If you are the Government and want to put out press releases that say the number of arrests have gone down and the number of court appearances have gone down, then yes it's a great policy."

By the numbers:

Percentage of convictions from prosecutions at Central North Island district courts (Rotorua, Taupo, Tokoroa, Taumaranui)

2009: 77.7; 2010: 80.2; 2011: 83.7; 2012: 81.7; 2013: 86.5; 2014: 85.4; 2015: 87.1

Adults prosecuted at Central North Island district courts

2009: 6796; 2010: 6324; 2011: 5483; 2012: 5186; 2013: 4718; 2014: 4058; 2015: 3853

Source: Statistics NZ