Apology for courts rollout problems

ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 13:18 29/11/2012

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Justice secretary Andrew Bridgman has apologised for problems in the roll-out of a centralised court system in Auckland.

The programme was dogged by controversy, with lawyers and judges complaining it caused backlogs and delays in cases involving at-risk children and domestic violence.

Introduced in February, the model was supposed to make the system more efficient. But when former Principal Family Court Judge Peter Boshier expressed concerns Justice Minister Judith Collins said ''the model is fundamentally flawed.''

Bridgman said it was the justice ministry's ''biggest challenge of the year.''

''It was a initative done for the right reasons, but the bottom line is the implementation was problematic... Staff were not fully prepared for the changes and we did not engage with the legal profession early enough or actively enough, and I've got to take a mea culpa on that.''

He admitted the ministry under-estimated the volume of cases.

A senior team has been installed to sort out the problems with an advisory committee with representatives from the legal profession.

Bridgman said ''extra resources'' have also gone into managing the caseload.

''So the result of this has been...they are now back to business as usual.''

Bridgman also admitted legal aid reforms  - designed to cut costs - have not gone smoothly. ''We as a ministry have paid the price for not being as connected with the legal profession as we should be.''

Furious debate among lawyers about the changes have been ''partly fuelled by a sense of mistrust with the ministry,'' he said.

''Greater connection doesn't mean agreement but it does mean ...greater understanding on both sides about what we are trying to achieve.''

The ministry is holding a series of workshops to spell out how legal aid services are purchased.

Bridgman was addressing MPs on the justice and electoral select committee this morning.

He also outlined how the ministry is striving to implement a  ''people-centred'' court system including more on-line services and increased use of audio-visual links to court rooms.

Bridgman said officials may eve considered SKYPE links for judge and counsel hearings.

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