A High Court judge has spoken out at the lack of a High Court jury trial facility in Tauranga as he was forced to allocate a "standby" trial fixture in late 2020 for two accused.
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"Despite repeated pleas to remedy this situation no money has been allocated for this important courtroom infrastructure in this region," Justice Timothy Brewer said.
"And it appears there are no plans to spend any money to improve the situation and jury trial commitments in Rotorua and Hamilton High Courts only highlights the problem."
Given the size of Tauranga and the heavy jury trial workload commitments, the city needed to have its own High Court, he said.
Justice Brewer made the comments at a pre-trial hearing in Tauranga High Court earlier this week for Andrew Alan William, 53, and his 30-year-old partner Laken Maree Rose.
The pair have denied a raft of alleged sexual crimes against children aged between 3 and 15 years, which includes joint charges of indecent assaults and rape of children under 12.
They have also pleaded not guilty to charges of making objectionable publications and possession of objectionable publications which relate to allegedly recording the acts.
"Unfortunately the most I can do is set down a four-week standby trial fixture in Hamilton High Court to begin on November 16, 2020, and if that cannot go ahead, a confirmed trial date on February 8, 2021," Justice Brewer told Rose and Williams.
The defendants' cases were adjourned until December 11 for a further pre-trial hearing.
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Rose's lawyer Philip Morgan QC told the Bay of Plenty Times the situation was not new and "not something the Ministry of Justice was not already aware of".
Morgan said there was the same problem in Hamilton which urgently needed another high court jury room but there was not support to refurbish an empty building to provide one.
"It's a problem that has been going on for years but there are no votes in buildings. It's not just investment in buildings we need more judges too," he said.
Morgan said it was not only unfair for defendants to wait for more than a year from arrest for their trial but also complaints, witnesses and the lawyers involved.
Tauranga senior barrister Tony Balme said the "lack of investment" by successive governments in this critical infrastructure in Tauranga had led to a "disastrous" situation.
He said it had been a problem for a decade or more and meant defendants, complainants, lawyers, judges and witnesses had to spend hours travelling to Hamilton or Rotorua and back.
"It's like a travelling roadshow in and out of Tauranga which can go on for days and days and sometimes weeks depending on the length of a trial.
"It's a nonsense situation which has been created after years and years of the Ministry refusing to spend any money to fix it," he said.
Williams' lawyer Bill Nabney said it was an "unacceptable" onerous situation not only for defendants but for complainants, their families and witnesses.
Nabney said delays in setting jury trials were also impacting on district court matters.
"Because Tauranga courthouse cannot accommodate more than four defendants being tried at once it means waiting for available courtrooms in Rotorua or Hamilton.
"This includes the Operation Notus [drug-dealing accused ] multiple-defendants trials being shifted to Hamilton District Court which won't take place until 2020 and 2021."
Crown solicitor Anna Pollett earlier told the Bay of Plenty Times Tauranga desperately needed a new courthouse and a High Court criminal registry as the current facilities did not adequately support complainants and vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in court.
"At one stage court users were advised that the Tauranga Court precinct was high on a priority list for an upgrade but we were recently advised that is not the case."
Victoria McLaughlin, the Ministry of Justice's acting chief operating officer, said the Ministry had identified a number of issues with the Tauranga courthouse.
"We are looking at a proposed redevelopment of the building as part of its overall investment prioritisation programme. Until a decision is made, the Ministry is doing what it can to ensure the courthouse is run as efficiently, safely and effectively as possible for all court user," she said.
"There is no panacea in this instance, and some interim solutions are less than ideal, but until the redevelopment is possible the Ministry will continue to maintain its portfolio of buildings as best it can," McLaughlin said.
"Tauranga and Rotorua remain key priorities, among other courthouses that need our attention. However, we cannot provide a timeframe for any changes or refurbishment."