Southland gets through court cases faster

NICCI MCDOUGALL
Last updated 05:00 24/03/2014

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Southland is getting through its court cases faster than the national average thanks to changes to court processes, the Ministry of Justice says.

Figures released by Courts Minister Chester Borrows show the average age of court cases in southern courts in April was 133 days but in December it was 114 - a 14.2 per cent decrease.

The average amount of time a criminal court case was active in Southland and Central Otago was 66 days, well below the national average of 101 days.

Invercargill lawyers Katy Barker and John Fraser have noticed an improvement in the speed of criminal court cases.

Ms Barker welcomed faster court proceedings and said it was beneficial for everyone involved in the system, particularly victims and defendants.

Mr Fraser said he had noticed an increase in turnaround speed of cases as a result of the new Criminal Procedure Act.

But Invercargill lawyer Hugo Young said he had not noticed a speed-up. However, there had been a noticeable drop in the number of cases coming before the courts.

Southland area commander Inspector Lane Todd welcomed the speed-up, attributing it to the drop in crime throughout Southland. Police had also dealt with some low-end offending outside court.

A faster court system took pressure off victims and it assisted police with the time they had to prepare and be in court, he said.

The ministry has set a goal of halving the time it takes to deliver court services by 2017.

Mr Borrows said changes to the way courts operated had made a big difference in Southland. However, there were still delays in the system.

"The challenges we continue to face in our court system is that while waiting times are now coming down, they have been rising for many years, and remain too high.

"We need to continue our focus on improving our court processes, the way different players in the court system work together, and preventing unnecessary delays in the court system," he said.

The Criminal Procedure Act, introduced in July, was designed to simplify, streamline and speed up court services and to benefit the people involved in the criminal justice system through no fault of their own, Mr Borrows said.

Police could now file charges electronically instead of hand-delivering them to the courts. Corrections could file pre-sentence reports electronically and bring prisoners and defendants to court electronically through audio-visual links, he said.

"I'm pleased to say these changes are already starting to pay off in places like Southland.

"I want to congratulate the Southland court staff and court staff across the country for the way they have delivered this step-change in the way our court system works."

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- The Southland Times

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