Brandt Shortland is hanging up his coroner's gown and swapping it for more official garb after being sworn in as a District Court judge.

Shortland, of Ngati Hine-Te Orewai, Ngapuhi, Ngai Te Rangi, Ngati Ranginui descent, was appointed coroner for Te Tai Tokerau in 2007, and then became deputy coroner in 2016.

Shortland will sit in Kaikohe Court and preside over criminal hearings and jury trials. It is the first time the town has had a resident District Court judge.

He was one of three new District Court judges who will work in Northland.

Advertisement

The others are Auckland barrister Hana Ellis and Whanganui lawyer Michelle Howard-Sager, both of whom are also of Ngapuhi descent, and will be based in the family courts in Whangārei and Kaikohe respectively.

Unfortunately Covid-19 put paid to a swearing in ceremony at Tau Henare Marae, Pipiwai, last Wednesday and instead fellow Northland Judge John McDonald officiated at a ceremony held in the Whangārei Courthouse.

Fellow Judge Greg Davis said a mihi and welcomed members of Shortland's family as well as friends to the 45-minute ceremony.

The new judges will take part in a five weeks of training before taking their place in court near the end of May. However, their start date could change in light of Covid-19.

Shortland is looking forward to the challenge and said he hoped to build on the contacts he made in the community during his work as coroner.

"I hope to make a bit of a difference ... it's too easy to send people to jail," Shortland said.

"We have a high prison population in Northland. There is a big issue with family violence and methamphetamine. The courts can succeed if the whānau comes on board otherwise the cycle continues."

But the father-of-four was aware there would be times when people were sent to jail as that was the only option.

Advertisement

Shortland was admitted to the bar in 1995 and started work in New Plymouth before relocating to Hamilton in 1996.

For the next 11 years he worked regularly in the criminal, youth and family courts with multiple assignments as lawyer for children and youth.

In 1999, he was made a partner in the firm of Bogers Scott & Shortland and was also appointed the district inspector for mental health, and later the district inspector under the Intellectual Disability (Compulsory Care and Rehabilitation) Act in 2003.

As a coroner Shortland has been involved in policy development around cultural sensitivity, body tissue retention processes, return of bodies to whānau in a timely manner and the repatriation processes.

Attorney-General David Parker said the 21 new judges appointed nationally included replacements for retirements as well as 10 new positions. Ten of the new judges were Māori, eight Pākehā, one Māori/Chinese and two Samoan. Twelve are women.

"It's pleasing to see high-quality appointees coming forward from diverse backgrounds. It is important that the judiciary reflects the make-up of the community it serves," Parker said.

The new judges would help manage the increasing workload in the District Court, improve access to justice, and reduce the toll that long delays had on those accessing the courts.

The 2019 Wellbeing Budget allocated $54 million over four years to cover the cost of new positions. That funding also covered the cost of additional staff to ensure the judges could operate effectively.

The new appointees will increase the number of District Court judges from 155 to 172.

The legislative cap on the number of District Court judges was increased last year from 160 to 182, to allow for new appointments and to leave room for 10 additional appointments in future years.