Delays for sexual violence jury trials are increasing - a statistic the Government is claiming shows success in clearing old cases but one which the Greens label an indictment on the court system.
Figures provided to the Green Party show the longest period it has taken for a sexual violence jury trial to reach a conclusion - from the date charges are filed to their outcome - has gone from just over three years to four and a half years in the past six years.
At the same time, the median length for trials to conclude has gone from 388 days to 459 days over the same period.
The details have emerged at a time when the Police are facing criticism for their handling of the so-called Roast Busters case. Basic errors were identified in an inquiry into the police investigation of a group of Auckland youths who allegedly bragged on a Facebook page about having sex with drunk and underage girls, some as young as 13.
The information about sexual violence jury trials was provided in answer to a
Parliamentary question to Justice Minister Amy Adams from Green Party women's spokeswoman Jan Logie.
Ms Adams, in her answer, said the past two years had seen the Ministry of Justice pushing through old cases. She said by pushing through "more old cases, the average age of cases being disposed of is increased".
She said there were other factors which impacted on case length, including the speed with which those involved prepared for the hearing - and the availability of lawyers and witnesses.
Ms Logie labelled the situation described in the statistics as "unacceptable", dismissing the minister's explanation over the emphasis on clearing older cases as being responsible for the steady increase over six years.
She said changes to the court system and cuts to legal aid had made it more difficult for cases to move through the courts.
"The Government has made things worse for victims of sexual violence The changes they have made are slowing the system up. The Government needs to put more resources into the system, and set some targets for case resolution."
Ms Logie said victims of sexual violence were retraumatised by long delays between charges being filed and the case being resolved. "There is a permanent sense of insecurity and having to keep on dealing with it."
Ms Logie said the court issues were in contrast for National's support of funding sexual violence social services. "Government has said they are making this a priority and all the indications are that they are."
Courts acting deputy secretary Linda Biddle said the average age of trial cases was coming down across the courts - two months less by the end of 2014 compared with April 2013. Target-setting and procedural changes had led the reduction, she said.
Ms Biddle said there had been an emphasis over the past two years on pushing through old cases first.
"Most people do not spend a long time in the criminal justice system. Being involved in a criminal case is a distressing time for everyone, especially victims. We strive to keep everyone's time in the criminal system to a minimum."
Over the same period, the number of jury trials in sexual violence cases went from 448 down to 380.
Police prosecutions manager Inspector Gary Allcock said changes to the law through the Criminal Procedure Act saw more cases resolved before going to jury trial.
"In many cases this has led to earlier guilty pleas without having to subject victims to the stress of a trial." He said a decline in the crime rate could also explain fewer cases in the courts.
A recent Herald investigation highlighted the case of property developer-turned-pariah Mark Lyon, convicted on a range of sex charges and sentenced to 15 years in jail, more than three years after he was arrested.
Detective Sergeant Andrew Saunders, who led the investigation, told the Herald of the effort invested in keeping the victims focused on testifying. "Cops always say 'once the arrest is made, that's when the real work begins'. You've got to constantly keep working with the victims."