New Zealand Law Society - Sexual Violence Court pilot shows trial time reduction

Sexual Violence Court pilot shows trial time reduction

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A report evaluating the pilot of New Zealand's first Sexual Violence Court says pilot cases are proceeding to jury trial about a third faster on average than previously.

The evaluation also says that most complainants feel the pilot's trials are managed in a way that does not cause them to feel retraumatised by the process.

The pilot has been running in the District Court at Auckland and Whangārei since December 2016 for all serious (Category 3) sexual violence cases to be heard by a jury. The pilot set out to reduce pre-trial delays and improve the court experience for participants.

The evaluation report was prepared by research company Gravitas and the Ministry of Justice. It covers the first two years of the pilot, with quantitative analysis of timeframes and qualitative analysis of stakeholder experiences.

Acting Chief District Court Judge John Walker says the pre-trial intensive and proactive case management by specially trained jury judges, supported by dedicated case managers, is shown to produce shorter timeframes for those involved in a serious sexual violence trial.

He says judge-designed best- practice guidelines for case and trial management, alongside associated measures to ensure a gentler process such as secure waiting areas, are also reducing risk of further trauma.

The evaluation shows that overall, the time to reach trial for cases entering the pilot (at the case review stage) has reduced by 30% or 110 days on average in Auckland; and by 39% or 201 days on average in Whangārei. This means average time to trial from case review is 8 and 10 months in those centres respectively. Before the pilot it took an average of 12 months in Auckland and 17 months in Whangārei.

Judge Walker says he expects all jury trial judges to adopt the pilot's guidelines. It is also considered desirable that lawyers avail themselves of education and training in this area, noting that the Solicitor-General has developed new guidelines for prosecutors in respect of prosecuting sexual violence cases, and the Under-Secretary for Justice recently outlined plans to fund specialist training for defence counsel on best practice in sexual violence trials.