The Acting Chief District Court Judge, John Walker is concerned that the number of people in custody on remand continues to be at a very high level, accounting for over one third of all people in prison.
In a letter (read the full letter here) to Counsel who work in Auckland, Manukau and Christchurch, he writes that of that number, 1200 people are awaiting sentence and many have been waiting a long time.
“The problem I see is that while these people are waiting in custody, mostly they receive no interventions and a very large number are sentenced effectively to time served. The number of such sentences has doubled since 2015. This reflects the increasing length of time people are waiting for sentence while in custody,” he says.
Judge Walker says he has allocated eight weeks of additional sentencing time in the Auckland, Manakau and Christchurch Courts, dedicated to those people in custody awaiting sentence.
He has also issued a direction in respect of these cases which will require defence counsel, and crown counsel where they are involved, to file a memorandum not later than 10 working days before the sentencing date certifying that the case is ready to proceed or specifying what barriers there are to the case proceeding. You can read the direction from Judge Walker here.
Judge John Walker says that the Department of Corrections is keen to support earlier resolution of these cases and will provide resources to attempt to deal with any barriers within their control.
“For example, if counsel advise in the memorandum that a new address needs to be assessed for an electronically monitored sentence, early advice of this many enable a prompt assessment to be made ahead of the sentencing date,” he says.
Judge Walker says if counsel are waiting for a specialist report the memorandum will draw attention to this fact and steps may be able to be taken to expedite the provision of the report.
“If there is good reason for the case not proceeding then an early decision may be made to vacate the sentencing date allowing for another case to be brought forward,” Judge Walker says.