New Zealand Law Society - Quake-related filings to beat deadline boost High Court workload

Quake-related filings to beat deadline boost High Court workload

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The High Court has reported increasing filings in civil cases in 2016, due mainly to Christchurch earthquake-related general proceedings, and appeals arising from the Auckland Unitary Plan.

The Chief High Court Judge, Hon Justice Geoffrey Venning’s annual report for 2016 notes that quake-related proceedings rose sharply in anticipation of the potential effect of the Limitation Act 2010 time limits as the sixth anniversaries of the two major Christchurch earthquakes approached.

The report says those earthquake civil cases settle at very high rates.

“In 2016, 95% of disposed earthquake cases settled by agreement between the parties.  The drop in the clearance rate for general proceedings from 101% to 88% is largely attributable to the Limitation Act-related filings of earthquake cases.”    

There were 104 general proceedings trials heard in 2016, down from 124 the previous year.  The report says this can be attributed in part to lower filings in previous years.    

The 12 month average and median times to trial for general proceedings trial adjudications remain high influenced in part by the focus on disposing old files.  The average disposal time for general proceedings disposed of by trial increased by 13 days (from 656 days to 669) but the median time to trial dropped by 32 days from 576 to 544 days.    

Drop in criminal cases

There were 124 criminal cases on hand at 31 December 2016 compared to 150 at the same time in 2015. These numbers include cases awaiting sentence.  

Only four cases begun prior to the start of the Criminal Procedure Act on 1 July 2013 remain to be heard.  Three of these had a Supreme Court hearing in November 2016 and a further hearing for these matters occurred in April 2017.  The fourth is a retrial.      

Justice Venning says there are some concerns over the statutory protocol regime for offences including serious sexual, violence and drug offending.

The Protocol was introduced under s 66 of the Criminal Procedure Act 2011 and identifies cases and classes of case which must be considered for transfer to the High Court.

“In practice, the initial identification of these cases by the Crown Solicitor and the processing of protocol cases in the District Court have proven to be problematic. The statutory requirements are administratively complex to operate. A recent audit revealed that a number of protocol cases have not been identified and/or processed correctly.     

“Since the commencement of the Act, the High Court has consistently directed between 16% and 20% of protocol cases be tried in the High Court.  If, as the audit suggests, cases are not being sent to the Court for determination, they obviously cannot be directed to be tried in the High Court which has workload implications for both the High and District Courts.  With the concurrence of the Chief District Court Judge, I have raised this with the Deputy Solicitor-General and the Chief Operating Officer, Courts in the Ministry of Justice.”