Modernising New Zealand’s court system is a priority for the Ministry of Justice, its chief executive Andrew Bridgman says.
In the Ministry of Justice’s 2015/2016 annual report, which was recently tabled in Parliament, Mr Bridgman says there are four key goals in its long-term improvement strategy: reducing the time it takes to hear and resolve matters; improving the user experience; simplifying and standardising in order to improve productivity and efficiency; and reducing dependency on physical locations.
The ministry is setting itself an “aspirational goal” of disposing of all serious harm cases within 12 months, something it expects will take several years to achieve.
“Speed is an important element of a fair and accessible justice system. A big part of our modernisation work is focused on delivering services faster and, in particular, reducing the time it takes to resolved cases,” the annual report states.
Improving the court experience
The ministry says that courts are being modernised to be more customer-focused, efficient, responsive and able to respond to changes in demand.
“We’re particularly concerned with the experience customers have as their case goes through the system – whether as a victim or witness, if they’re paying a fine or in some other way.”
The ministry says it is focused is on “doing whatever we can for them at what is often an unexpected and vulnerable time in their lives”.
It cites an upgrade of the Manukau District Court in August last year as an example of how it is making courts more user-friendly The court now has a multi-jurisdictional customer services centre, new secure witness technology that protects witnesses from direct contact with defendant, and four new courtrooms, extra hearing rooms, holding rooms, interview rooms and judges’ chambers.
Simplifying and standardising
A lot of work that doesn’t need to be handled in a court building is now being dealt with by the District Courts Central Registry. This includes booking and paying for interpreters for court hearings, processing applications to the Disputes Tribunal, processing divorce applications and processing notices of proceedings and default judgments for the District Court.
The ministry says that by centralising and streamlining these activities processing times have significantly improved. Processing divorce applications, for example, now takes 24 hours rather than six weeks.
Together with the Department of Corrections, the Ministry of Justice has completed a $27.8 million upgrade and expansion of audio-visual links (AVL) between 19 courts, 12 prisons and Auckland’s secure mental health unit the Mason Clinic.
“AVL increases the safety and security of everyone by allowing prisoners to make remote court appearances at any connected court in the country,” the Ministry of Justice says.
In 2015/2016 there were more than 12,000 remote appearances in court using audio-visual links.
2015/2016 by the numbers
- More than 192,000 cases handled across all courts and tribunals
- 137,000 new District Court criminal cases received
- 59,500 new Family Court criminal cases received
- 16,000 new cases accepted by the Public Defence Service
- 52,400 people granted legal aid
- 460,000 requests for criminal histories processed
- $191 million in fines and reparations collected
- 12,600 applications to the Disputes Tribunal
- 45,000 civil enforcement applications processed.