Chief High Court Judge Justice Susan Thomas and Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu have addressed the issue in a letter penned to all judges detailing their worries over workload, stress and mental health. “As the peak national body representing more than 15 000 lawyers, we’ve raised our concerns about wellness in the profession, and I thank Justice Thomas and Judge Taumaunu for communicating this to the judiciary”, Mr Barton said.
“Counsel across the motu are under immense workload pressure, and I’m hearing that many are feeling stressed and overwhelmed, and worried about the impact of this on their clients.”
“I am particularly concerned for the wellbeing of family and criminal lawyers, as there is a growing shortage of lawyers in these areas. The number of cases in the system has not reduced and cases are often taking longer, so fewer lawyers are juggling the same amount of work across the system.”
“I am also seeing a growing gap in experienced lawyers. Many of our senior counsel are near or over 65 years old and there is a growing shortage of lawyers with 5-10 years’ experience. To ensure the sustainability of the justice system, we need to convince junior lawyers that family and criminal work are attractive options.”
There has also been an increasing number of new processes and procedures (i.e. sexual violence proceedings) that lawyers need time to get their heads around. Not only does this add to the workload and stress of practitioners, but we also ask particularly for patience while they adapt.
“I’m grateful to the judiciary for their willingness to be mindful of the impact of high trial workloads on individual lawyers. It’s important that lawyers can have sufficient time between trials to enable them to properly prepare for each, but also to manage the psychological impact that trial work can have on them”, Mr Barton continued.
“Holidays and other leave arrangements need to be considered. Lawyers also need to recharge their batteries, and it becomes difficult when necessary leave is not taken into account when scheduling fixtures.”
“Being at the coalface, the judiciary plays a crucial role in monitoring and being mindful of the impact on individuals who have heavy trial workloads and we welcome further conversation and investigation into the issue.”
Read the letter in full here.