Lengthy court delays discourage victims
305 days average delay for High Court jury trials
With the time from arrest to sentence frequently stretching beyond two years, frustrated police say delays mean offenders disappear, witnesses' memories fade, and victims lose faith in the system.
In the past year, 10 cases have been thrown out by judges because of excessive waiting times - including charges of assault, kidnapping, wounding with intent to cause grievous bodily harm and possession of an offensive weapon.
Courts Minister Rick Barker said case completion rates had improved, but increased caseloads contributed to the delays.
Wellington has the longest average wait for jury trials in the High Court - 369 days from committal to scheduled trial date. The wait for district court trials is longest in Auckland, at 358 days.
And police say it usually takes six to nine months between arrest and committal, meaning the wait for justice is even longer than official statistics indicate.
Yet some regional courts are completing sentencing within six months of arrest, leading to warnings the system is delivering justice by postcode.
Detective Senior Sergeant Dave Pizzini of Counties Manukau CIB said victims waiting two years to give evidence became disillusioned.
In the past six months, two victims in his area had asked for a trial to be dropped because of the lengthy delays. "Victims have written letters to the court saying, `We don't want to go through this any more'.
"They say, `Does it really matter any more?' They've moved their lives along and don't wish to be retraumatised by it," he said.
In another case last year, a rape victim told a court the 18 months of waiting for the accused to go to trial were "the most sad and difficult ones of my life".
"I regretted ever coming forward," she said. "If I had known the journey needed to get justice would be so long and so cruel, I would never have started it."
The Police Association is lobbying the Government and courts to have all trials completed within 12 months of arrest. Vice-president Chris Cahill said court delays revictimised the victims. "No one's winning out on this."
Mr Barker said there had been steady improvements in court services since 1999. Five new courthouses had been built in the past six years and 28 courts refurbished. Two more courts were planned.
The number of High Court jury trials completed had increased by 9 per cent in two years while the number of cases dealt with by district courts had increased by 5 per cent.
Delays in the courts could come for many reasons, not all of them the system's fault, he said. There could be delays getting forensic or expert evidence or delays sought by either the defence or prosecution. Increased case volumes also contributed, especially in Auckland.
"All of the backlog is being looked at carefully."
- The Dominion Post
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