Urgent attention to the number of judges available to conduct District Court business is needed, the New Zealand Law Society says.
“It shows how serious the matter has become when the Chief District Court Judge publicly states that the unrelenting pressure on judges in the Family Court is now creating unacceptable delay and that something has to give,” the convenor of the Law Society Criminal Law Committee, Steve Bonnar QC, says.
“We clearly have arrived at a situation where access to justice in the District Court is under threat. The Chief Judge is planning to divert judicial resource from the criminal jurisdiction to the Family Court. While this may temporarily relieve pressure in the Family Court, it will just increase delays and pressure in the criminal courts. It is not a long-term fix.
“It should not have come to this. The impact of the changes wrought by the Family Court reforms of 2014 has been exacerbated by a law change last year which effectively imposed a sinking lid on the number of available acting judges.
“The Law Society is fully supportive of the Chief Judge and the judiciary and we call upon the Government and responsible government agencies to give this urgent attention. All New Zealanders suffer when barriers are put in the way of accessing justice.”
Mr Bonnar says it is clear that there are simply not enough District Court judges and the solution appears to be to appoint more.
“The changes introduced by the District Court Act 2016 last year meant a reduction in the number of acting Judges who could be appointed. There is also a fixed limit on the number of permanent judges. It is clear that this has not worked.”