With hundreds of thousands of events scheduled in New Zealand District Courts each year, a smarter approach to scheduling is set to deliver benefits for those that work in and use the criminal courts.
Traditionally District Court users have been told to come to court in the morning and wait for their case to be called. The worst case scenario is a wait of up to seven hours. This is not a good use of the time of our partners such as Corrections, Police and lawyers. This is also an added stress for victims of crime, and a lot to ask of the family members and friends who come to support them.
All District Courts with sufficient volume are moving to a more efficient approach to scheduling.
Rather than being expected to come to court for the day, people will be asked to come for a block of time.
For example, a District Court might schedule a day’s sentencing events into three 75 minutes blocks. Participants will be asked to be at court by the start of the time block to which their event is assigned. By 1 April 2015, sentencing, Crown sentencing, case reviews and jury trial call-over events will be scheduled into time blocks. Lists will also be time-blocked shortly after this.
Court staff will be working with local stakeholders to determine scheduling of time blocks that make sense for each court.
Getting the full benefit from these changes is dependent on all court users coming to court at their scheduled time.
Time-blocking has been made easier by a substantial upgrade to the system used to schedule cases so a time and date for the next hearing can be set before the parties leave the courtroom.
Real time scheduling also paves the way for future developments, such as providing Police and Corrections improved visibility to up-to-date court schedules and first appearance availability.
Reducing waiting times also needs to be balanced against the best use of judicial time. Initially this will be addressed by a “morning heavy” approach to scheduling to ensure that there are sufficient cases to proceed with. This aligns with the current national judicial rostering capacities set by the Chief District Court Judge.
Smarter scheduling will improve the court experience by reducing the time court users have to spend in court waiting for their case to be heard. This is part of delivering a modern, accessible people-centred justice system.
Tony Fisher is the General Manager, District Courts at the Ministry of Justice.