New figures revealing fewer new cases going through the Napier District Courts does not necessarily mean an improved system, a Napier community lawyer says.
The District Court had 87 fewer new criminal cases than in the previous financial year, according to information obtained from Courts of New Zealand.
The number of new Family Court cases was also down by 19 to 1124, and there was one fewer new Youth Court case than in the previous year.
Napier Community Link managing solicitor Jackie Pearse said changes around judicial procedures had been twofold.
"On one side, there's less resources available around legal aid. But on the other side, particularly in family jurisdiction, you've got a move to try and help people to resolve things without having to go to court," she said.
Legal aid lawyers were finding the work unaffordable, so more people were going to court undefended, she said.
"There are times when people need to go to court to defend themselves and get a fair outcome, so it's a concern when people can't get access to justice."
In some cases, people also had to file paperwork themselves, which meant more legwork around applications through court, she said.
However, there had been a strong focus on resolving matters outside of court, particularly in the Family Court.
Changes were made to Family Court procedures in March to divert disputes to a mediation process whenever possible. The changes were intended to reduce the stress on children and families by avoiding the conflict, delays and expenses of court.
Nationally, District Courts had fewer new, ongoing and disposed criminal and civil cases than in the previous year.
Fewer new criminal cases could be attributed to greater police use of pre-charge warnings to divert lower-end offences away from prosecution and court proceedings, the Courts New Zealand report said.
The number of District Court jury trials was also down, and the number of cases held in the Youth Court fell to an historical low. New and active applications in the Family Court increased slightly but the number of disposals decreased.
Court of Appeal and High Court cases were down, while the number of cases the Supreme Court heard was up.
Statistics New Zealand data showed conviction rates were the lowest in the 34 years for which statistics had been available for the year ending June 30.
Acting general manager of the justice sector Dean Rutherford said the police, Ministry of Justice and Department of Corrections were working together and with other agencies to reduce crime and offending.
Crime rates in New Zealand, like many Western nations, had been dropping for many years and this had seen the number of people charged in New Zealand courts at the lowest level since statistics began in 1980-81, he said.
The sector's Better Public Service targets, based on June 2011 crime levels, aimed for a 15 per cent reduction in total crime, and a 25 per cent reduction in youth crime by 2017. At the end of March the total crime rate was down by 16 per cent and Youth Court appearances by 30 per cent, Mr Rutherford said.