Justice delayed is justice denied and bottle necks in our courts are a growing problem.
Justice Minister Simon Power has released plans to streamline proceedings including:
- Requiring the defence to identify and disclose issues in dispute before a trial. This is estimated to result in a savings of 450 court days a year, or 10% of the expected total trial sitting time under the new regime
- Allowing courts to proceed in the absence of a defendant if the court is not satisfied the defendant has a reasonable excuse for their absence.
- Requiring the court to take into account a defendant’s compliance with procedural matters as a mitigating or aggravating factor at sentencing.
- Allowing the court to impose cost orders against the prosecution, defendant, and defence counsel if it’s satisfied they have failed, without reasonable excuse, to comply with a procedural requirement.
- Allowing greater flexibility to continue with a trial when jury numbers fall to 10.
- Ensuring guilty pleas are entered as early as practicable to help avoid unnecessary delay.
- Promoting out-of-court discussions between parties so there are fewer adjournments and shorter hearings.
- Reserving jury trials for the most serious and complex cases, including by raising the threshold for a defendant electing a jury trial from crimes carrying a penalty of more than three months’ to those carrying more than three years’ imprisonment. This is expected to cut the jury trial workload by 300 to 600 trials a year (a reduction of 25-45% in the jury trial workload).
He said the changes have the potential to free up 16,000 court sitting hours each year by delivering benefits which include:
- 43,000 fewer court events.
- 1,000 to 1,400 fewer cases that need to be designated for trial by jury.
- 300 to 600 fewer cases that actually proceed to a jury trial.
- Shaving about 13 weeks off the time it takes for a jury trial case in the District Court or High Court to go through the pipeline from the time charges are laid to completion.
- Savings of about $24.3 million over a five-year period.
“I’m a strong believer that justice delayed is justice denied, and this bill will ensure that timely justice is delivered for victims, witnesses, defendants, and the community.
“The key legislation currently in place dates back to the 1950s and has been subject to years of ad hoc reform.
“It’s been clear for some time that the excessive costs, the undue delays, and the needless complexities which govern criminal procedure needed to be addressed.
“We cannot continue to mask delays and inefficiencies in criminal procedure by simply building more courthouses and appointing more judges.
“I’m committed to improving the criminal justice system, particularly for those who find themselves in it through no fault of their own, while maintaining a defendant’s right to a fair trial.
“I’m confident this bill will achieve both.”
Delays aren’t fair to the accused, victims or witnesses. They add to the costs in both financial and emotional terms.
These changes, at first reading, look like they’ll stop unnecessary delays without prejudicing the right to a fair trial.
If not, people with concerns will have an opportunity to add safeguards during the select committee process.