Justice funding cuts are hurting

LYN HUMPHREYS
Last updated 05:00 10/07/2014

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Taranaki's Crown prosecutor is calling for an urgent community debate over cutbacks in funding for criminal justice service.

"The cuts are unsustainable in the long term. There are huge pressures across the board - not just for the Crown," Cherie Clarke said.

"If the reduced funding levels continue long-term something may go amiss," she said yesterday.

Funding for Crown solicitors across New Zealand was cut last year. Police had not received an increase for five years and there had been cuts to Legal Aid services and the Family Court process, she said.

Clarke has been in the job for 23 years, nearly 10 of which have been served in Taranaki.

"There has to be some change unless there is a drastic reduction in jury trials in this district," she said.

But this was unlikely because Taranaki was experiencing an increase of between one to two per cent in serious crime in the last year.

"We are really fortunate in Taranaki that we have really good people [within the criminal justice system] who are doing a really good job under difficult circumstances."

In particular, Taranaki was lucky to have a strong CIB who were doing a great job, she said.

The pressure was on the region's Crown prosecutors, who were currently dealing with five High Court trials in the next six to seven months.

When she first arrived there were only one or two High Court trials a year, she said.

Clarke said she was continuing to advise Crown Law of the difficulties her office was facing. She could not speak for other Crown solicitors.

Clarke called for others struggling to provide criminal justice services to speak out.

"I am concerned that people may not feel they are able to discuss things openly when they should be doing it," she said.

And the public could have confidence there was no lowering of the charges for serious crimes handled by the Crown, she said.

"The message to the public is that they can have utter faith in police charging offenders for serious crime, sexual offending and domestic violence in Taranaki. Police are charging entirely appropriately."

She could not comment on lower-level crime which is not handled by the Crown.

"There was one occasion in 2012 when it was brought to my attention by another senior Crown prosecutor that a police prosecuting sergeant was telling a uniformed police officer in writing he should not have laid lower level drug charges as well as the class A and B charges my office were dealing with, because of the need to reduce crime by a certain percentage."

Clarke said when she personally reviewed the file she believed the charges laid by the uniformed police officer were entirely appropriate.

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She raised it with the CIB and her concerns were put to rest when the immediate response was that when charges were laid in this district by CIB, statistics were not relevant.

Crown prosecutions in Taranaki for serious violence, domestic violence and sexual abuse reached a 10-year high three years ago, she said. "And these figures have remained high."

- Taranaki Daily News

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