The District Court (District Court Judges) Amendment Bill has been passed by Parliament under urgency, raising the legislative cap on the number of District Court Judges from 160 to 182.
The bill was introduced by Justice Minister Andrew Little on 30 May and given all three readings under urgency on the same day. It comes into effect on the day after receiving the Royal assent.
During the first reading Mr Little said the bill was considered under urgency because Budget decisions to appoint an additional 10 District Court judges and two further Youth Court judges could not be implemented until the District Court Act had been amended.
"Recruitment will commence immediately after the enactment of this legislation," he said. "The usual parliamentary process will delay these appointments for several months, and the reality is that the backlog is here now and the workload pressures on the District Court are great. There are already long wait times, and these will continue to increase until more judicial resources are added."
Mr Little noted that the bill would create a buffer of a further 10 unfunded positions to enable further judges to be funded through future Budgets without the need for further legislative change.
Will help alleviate delays, says judiciary
Acting Chief District Court Judge Denise Clark says the government decision to fund a further 12 District Court judges this year through an increase in the statutory cap on judge numbers will help to alleviate delays in the court that have built up through a combination of factors largely beyond the court's control.
"These feature a change in profile of cases in the criminal jurisdiction which has seen a greater proportion of serious offences come before the court. These cases are more complex and time consuming to deal with and, therefore, a drain on judicial time," she says.
"As well, the prolonged industrial dispute in the courts in 2018 created a bulge of adjourned cases, and these will take many months to work out of the system.
"These issues have coincided with a steady decline in judge numbers since a law change came into effect in 2017, effectively creating a sinking lid on judicial numbers at a time many judges are reaching retirement age.
"Concern about the worsening delays and uncertainty about future judicial numbers led my office to develop, in conjunction with the Ministry of Justice, a model for calculating and forecasting judicial resourcing requirements.
"The high-quality information provided by this model underpins Parliament’s decision to lift the cap from 160 to 182 judges. Recruitment for the 12 funded positions, is already underway but it could be several months before the District Court feels the full benefit of the extra numbers.”
Law Society welcomes funding
"The New Zealand Law Society welcomes the decision to fund a further 12 District Court Judges," Law Society President Tiana Epati says. Ms Epati says the Law Society appreciates the comments made by the Minister of Justice that it creates a buffer of a further 10 unfunded positions to enable further judges to be funded without the need for further legislative change.