More 'blitz weeks' to clear court backlog

The judiciary's bid to speed up the Auckland justice system will see "blitz weeks" of district court jury trials to get through backlogs, the chief district court judge has announced.

Judge Jan-Marie Doogue, who made the remark during the swearing in of new judge Russell Collins in Napier yesterday, also called for a commitment from "other participants" to ensure the swift delivery of justice.

Judge Doogue said there was alarm at the perception that courts worked too slowly. The longer the justice process took the harder it became to provide a fair trial, and while judges had no authority over the administration of courts, they could take steps to improve matters, she said.

"In my view it is part of our public duty to do so."

She said judges and administrators had recently been busy getting an idea of how much work the courts had on hand.

Two new positions had been created to deal with this: a national judicial review adviser, and a national jury judge. Judge Geoff Rea will fill the judge's position.

These two will create a national jury trial register to monitor how many jury trials were outstanding, how old they are and when they do not proceed and why.

Judge Collins, who has been Crown solicitor in Napier since 2002, would sit in Auckland, which has been hit by judges' retirements and for some time had "been a case of too few hands being on deck", Judge Doogue said.

At the end of November there were about 2000 trials awaiting hearing nationally, of which more than a third were in Auckland and Manukau.

Two new judges appointed to Hastings, Jonathan Down and Anna Skellern, will also sit in the Gisborne court so Auckland judges would no longer need to cover that region. Judge Rea's first major task would be to develop systems to increase earlier access to jury trials in Auckland, where "the frequency of ‘blitz weeks' to clear through backlogs will increase," she said.

The first blitz week was held late last month saved 85 days of court time. The number of cases being disposed of in Auckland over the last 12 months slightly exceeded the number of new cases being received.

"The difficulty of delivering justice in a timely and efficient manner, in a culturally diverse city of 1.5 million people spread over 500 square kilometres, cannot be understated.

"When you factor in the commencement of the Criminal Procedure Act, the launch of the courts' Electronic Operating Model, and the expansion of the Manukau court building, 2013 begins to look like a very challenging year," Judge Doogue said.

The Dominion Post