Staff at New Zealand's biggest and busiest District Courts are refusing to serve, check and sign legal documents for nearly a month as the pay dispute with the Ministry of Justice escalates, creating a logjam of adjourned cases.
Ongoing industrial action by Public Service Association (PSA) members will now see court registry officers at Auckland District Court and Manukau District Court undertaking a ban on serving, checking and signing sentencing documents, the union said in a statement today.
The new form of protest began at midday and will continue until 4pm on December 7.
The Herald has also learned staff at Manukau District Court have also cancelled sentencing matters for the remainder of this week, resulting in as many as 72 cases being adjourned.
Several high-profile cases are due for sentencing in the Manukau and Auckland District Courts over the next month.
"The impact in a courtroom is that fundamental paperwork for case files entering the courts will be stalled to the point of causing postponements and major delays," the PSA's statement read.
"This follows a series of nationwide bans on fundamental transcription work by court reporters that came into effect yesterday, including bans on tasks that are core to standard operations including correcting errors."
PSA national secretary Glenn Barclay added: "The PSA position is that the door on resuming bargaining towards reaching a settlement with the Ministry of Justice is wide open.
"What we have now though is a situation where we first need a meaningful, tangible, concrete sign of a movement in the position of the ministry since we last met.
"We haven't received any assurance along those lines yet, but we are hopeful that our members are being listened to and that the ministry will come back to the table with a better offer".
The ministry's chief operating officer, Carl Crafar, told the Herald in a statement the ministry is doing its best to minimise the impact of the industrial action on our customers and our people.
"The impact of the industrial action is different from court to court," he said.
"The strike action being undertaken at Auckland and Manukau District Courts around processing sentencing documents will impact on hearings and we are working through this with the judiciary and our justice sector partners."
Crafar said the ministry remains open and committed to reaching a negotiated settlement and are "ready to meet with the PSA at any time".
Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue also weighed-in today.
She said judges, as a result of the industrial action, are trying to avoid people being held in custody for any longer than is necessary and are also concerned about vulnerable people not being retraumatised by any delays or disruption.
When possible judges are also sitting earlier in the day, giving priority to people held in custody, and are asking prisoners be brought to court in person rather than use an audiovisual link from prison and police cells, she added.
Extra vigilance to the Family Court's national electronic platform for dealing with urgent protection order applications is also being made, Chief Judge Doogue said.
"The delays compound quickly, including in the Family Court," she said.
"For instance, I have been advised that a Family Court hearing involving multiple overseas witnesses risks being deferred because of an AVL ban, and the next available dates for such a lengthy hearing are late next year."
Chief Judge Doogue said the courts will look at deferring non-jury trials from early December to the New Year to give priority to sentencing defendants who are held in custody before Christmas.
"Already we have had hearings either deferred or becoming drawn out because of the industrial action. Uncertainty and delay is hard on everyone involved," she said.
"Any failure to support sentencing hearings or to process documentation relating to sentencing has the potential to leave defendants in custody for unacceptable periods of time.
"Defendants who might have been sentenced to community-based sentences such as home detention or community detention risk remaining in prison until their sentencing can be rescheduled."
Last Monday, the Employment Court at Auckland dismissed an injunction application by the Ministry of Justice to stop short-notice "lightning strikes" by PSA members.
The PSA initially sought a pay increase of more than 13 per cent, more than double the ministry's budget, but have subsequently reduced their claim to 11 per cent.
They also wants to close the gender pay gap.