The Ministry of Justice is vowing to resolve all serious harm cases within 12 months.
In its annual report for 2017/18 the ministry says the target is based on the understanding that justice delayed is justice denied.
“We work alongside the Judiciary and justice sector partners to achieve this goal. We use data and analytics to understand what’s working in the court system and what isn’t,” it says.
The report admits that the time taken for serious harm cases to be disposed of “has been slowly heading in the wrong direction since 2015/16”.
“Two years ago, about 92% of serious harm cases were resolved within 12 months; in 2017/18, about 88% of serious harm cases were resolved within 12 months.”
One of the main reasons for the decline is because the courts are dealing with a higher caseload. In 2015 an average of 3,514 category 3 cases were filed each month. In 2017, on average, 3,768 category 3 cases were filed each month, an increase of 7%. And in 2017/18, there were nine fewer sitting days compared to 2016/17, resulting in less time to resolve cases.
Another reason the report sites, is that cases are increasingly more complex and progressing further through the court system, thus requiring more court events, before being resolved.
“The average number of events required to resolve serious criminal cases has increased from about 6.2 court events in 2013/14 to over 7.7 court events in 2017/18.”
One way of improving the court process is through building the capability of data and analytics, which Secretary for Justice Andrew Bridgman explained in a recent edition of LawPoints.
“The purpose of the court system is to resolve cases or disputes fairly, according to the law, for the public. People who enter the court system often do so at a time when they’re already vulnerable and under pressure. They shouldn’t be forced to stay in the system any longer than absolutely necessary, but the system is complex. There are multiple players and participants with independent roles,” the report notes.
The report also notes that the number of people receiving legal aid was 55,429 in the 2017/18 financial year, up from 49,819 in the 2014/15 year. However it is 1,200 higher than the 2012/13 year (54,274).