A High Court judge says if he's forced to adjourn a murder trial involving a Taupo toddler, he will be calling for an inquiry into New Zealand's forensic and pathology system.
Justice Tim Brewer made the comments in the High Court at Rotorua yesterday while dealing with the case involving Tania Shailer, 26, and David William Haerewa, 43.
Both have pleaded not guilty to charges of murder, manslaughter and ill-treating 3-year-old Moko Sayviah Rangitoheriri, who died on August 10 last year.
A three-week trial has been set down to begin on May 2 but defence lawyer Andy Schulze, who appeared for Shailer, said he was having difficulty finding a forensic pathologist in New Zealand who was able to give evidence relating to the Crown's forensic report.
Justice Brewer said he had to adjourn two other murder trials last year because of difficulties in getting pathology reports.
"I did that with extreme reluctance in those two cases because these are the sorts of cases that must be resolved as soon as possible for justice to be done. If this turns out to be a third I would be asking an inquiry be made into the pathology system and forensic pathology system."
Mr Brewer said this type of trial must be given priority.
He said trials of this nature were scheduled 10 to 12 months in advance and the Criminal Procedures Act provided for a system where pre-trial problems could be raised at callovers to ensure trial dates were maintained.
If Mr Schulze thought it would be impossible to get another pathologist by May 2, he was to write to the court requesting an adjournment, Justice Brewer said.
"I would only grant an adjournment if I was satisfied that the defendants would be unlikely to receive a fair trial in the absence of a forensic pathologist being available to assist the defence."
Harry Edward represented Haerewa and said he would be ready to go to trial on May 2.
Speaking to the Herald, forensic scientist Dr Anna Sandiford, director of the independent The Forensic Group, said the shortage of forensic pathologists was a longstanding problem.
It was most problematic in cases involving young children because of the specialist expertise required.
She was not surprised by Justice Tim Brewer's frustration.
Funding was not the issue and most cases qualified for legal aid funding. "We just don't have spare capacity in New Zealand."
A number of experienced forensic pathologists had retired or left New Zealand. While others were being trained there was a gap. Those here had to fit in court work around their daily jobs and needed between three to six months' notice.
She did not know why there was a shortage.
"It takes a lot of training and you have to be a certain type of person to want to do it but I honestly don't know why they haven't filled the apparent gap."
- additional reporting Daily Post