Kia ora tatou,
I hope you and the ones who matter most to you are safe and well in these uncertain times.
As I write this, the Prime Minister has just announced that Alert Level 4 will continue until midnight on Monday 27 April, with Alert Level 3 running for at least two weeks after that date, so we are well into considerations of what impact this will have on the justice system.
Given the changing nature of things, I want to make my comments here as broad as possible. The past weeks have been challenging, to say the least, but I thank the Heads of Bench for their leadership, the Law Society and legal profession for their patience and of course the ministry itself, all whom have navigated these unsettled waters. Making such disruptive changes to the justice system in a very short space of time is like asking the Titanic to turn on a dime – but I feel that together we have made some significant achievements in keeping essential justice services operating, while ensuring public safety.
The health and safety of all court participants, the judiciary, media and our staff has been paramount since day one. The cleaning regime we have implemented at court buildings across the country has been comprehensive, and I hope it’s given you all the sense that we are looking out for you and doing our best to keep everyone safe inside our buildings. No doubt for those of you who attended court you noticed the proliferation of PPE in our sites up and down New Zealand.
One of the key challenges has been equipping staff with the technology they need to continue their work from their home office – or kitchen table! There are limits to this in our paper-based world. We’ve had to take a good long look at work prioritisation here at National Office to ensure our frontline essential service staff – our case managers and registry staff – had everything they need to continue delivering the highest priority proceedings. Like you, we have all found ourselves discovering any number of new technologies as our work and socialising has gone to Zoom and our lives ever more online.
The extensive use of virtual meeting rooms for hearings, along with other technical and non-technical developments has given us a taste of what things could look like when we emerge from COVID-19. Working closely with the judiciary, we will be looking, where possible, to keep measures that have improved accessibility and efficiency for the justice system.
I want to say thank you to the legal profession for your patience and understanding over the past weeks too. As I said, the challenges are significant and the repercussions for the justice system will be felt for a long time. The backlog of individuals' cases before the courts is growing and, as Chief District Court Judge Taumaunu has noted, this is a burden that impacts on people’s lives. A key focus for us going forward will be to work in close partnership with the judiciary to progress and resolve those active cases as quickly as we can.
Things will certainly look different on the other side of this. I have no doubt it will take a lot of hard work from all involved in the justice sector to get things moving apace again, and I thank you in advance for the important part the legal profession will play in this.
Kia hora te marino, kia whakapapa pounamu te moana.
May the calm be widespread and the ocean glisten like greenstone to show us the way.
Andrew Kibblewhite, Secretary for Justice.