Funding for extra District Court judges in the Budget will not make immediate inroads towards clearing a backlog of cases, says Acting Chief District Court Judge Denise Clark.
Writing in LawNews, Clark said the district court was looking forward to "some cavalry arriving in the coming months in the form of 12 extra fulltime judicial positions announced in the Budget".
"Although the extra judges represent light on the horizon, the new intake will restore judicial numbers only to where they were in late 2017.
"Court users understandably eager for better timeframes, therefore, need to be realistic about the pace and scale of improvement the extra resource can provide," she said.
The Government allocated $54 million over four years for more judges in last month's Budget.
The funding will also cover additional justice sector staff needed to make sure the judges can operate effectively, Courts Minister Andrew Little said.
"The additional judges will help manage the District Court's increasing workload, improving New Zealanders' ability to access justice and reducing the toll that delays can have on people's mental, emotional and physical wellbeing," he said.
Clark said it will take time to make inroads into existing workloads, saying such is the backlog that the time to progress cases through the court is forecast to get worse before it gets better.
The number of new cases, the acting chief judge said, remain relatively steady but the number of complex cases is rising, which means reducing the backlog will take time.
Complex, judge-alone trials are taking 28 per cent longer than they did four years ago, Clark said.
"When cases are weighted for complexity, the overall new business for the court is calculated to be 7 per cent higher than four years ago when we had 15 more judges," she said.
Other factors leading to longer delays in district court cases have been a shortage of court resources, including police prosecutors, and redeploying judicial time to the Family Court, Clark said.
Following the Budget announcement, Braithwaite Law principal Tim Braithwaite welcomed the funding, saying the Rotorua court was extremely busy.
"We find it increasingly difficult to find court time for most applications to be heard, including sentencing within a reasonable time and getting bail applications in a reasonable time.
"People are held in custody when they otherwise wouldn't be."
Braithwaite said the funding was crucial for the administration of justice but it was difficult to say how many more judges would alleviate pressure.
"We definitely need more. If we get one more we could certainly have a lot more judicial time, would that be enough? I'm not sure."