Too soon to detect act's effect on case times

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 09:16 10/02/2014

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There are about 38 jury trials waiting to be heard in the Invercargill District Court, three less than at the same time last year, Justice Ministry figures show.

Figures provided by the Justice Ministry under the Official Information Act in December show at that time there were 35 district and three high court jury trials waiting to be heard in the Invercargill District Court.

This number was similar to previous years with 41 outstanding at the same time last year, 39 the year before and 50 the year before that. But the number has doubled from 23 in 2009, which Corrections attributes to the refurbishment of the jury room and a change in legislation .

The figures show the time it has taken from being committed to end of trial is 341 days in the Invercargill District Court.

District Courts general manager Tony Fisher said waiting times could be influenced by several factors, including availability of counsel, the number of pre-trial matters, forensic evidence and expert witnesses.

The Criminal Procedure Act 2011, which came into force in July, was designed to move criminal cases more quickly through the court system.

"This will result in fewer wasted appearances at which cases are simply not progressed, quicker resolution of cases, and a generally more comprehensible and efficient system."

It would mean fewer adjournments, shorter hearings and reduced time and costs, he said.

But it was too early for the act's full benefits to be seen as there were still significant numbers of cases under the old system.

Of the jury trials heard last year in Invercargill, the most common charge fell into the category for assault, Mr Fisher said.

Invercargill defence lawyer Hugo Young said there was always a steady stream of new cases.

The cases being dealt with were roughly equivalent to new cases coming through.

While it was preferable for cases to be dealt with as quickly as possible, it was normal to wait about a year to trial, but that could vary considerably both ways, he said.

Mr Young had had some trials that had been outstanding for two years but they were usually complicated and there was always a reason for the delay.

"If the delay is so great there's unfairness, the judge does have the power to stay the prosecution."

A stay is a suspension of proceedings.

He had not noticed a significant difference to the speed at which trial matters were dealt with yet following the implementation of the Criminal Procedure Act but it was early days and he did not expect to see much change until the act had been in place for at least a year, he said.

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Barrister John Westgate said it was too early to tell whether the Criminal Procedure Act would make a difference to the number of outstanding jury trials.

Crown solicitor Mary-Jane Thomas said the outstanding number of jury trials in Invercargill was not out of line with the rest of the country.

The reasons for the number of outstanding trials were because there was always a lot of pre-trial issues that needed to be addressed and there was only a set number of weeks per year jury trials were held, she said.

She agreed it was too early to tell whether the Criminal Procedure Act would make a difference to the number of outstanding jury trials.

- © Fairfax NZ News

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