Acting Chief District Court Judge moves to streamline sentencing

From: Acting Chief District Court Judge John Walker

To: All counsel in Auckland, Manukau and Christchurch

Date: 18 September 2019

Re: Sentencing when defendants are in custody

The number of people in custody on remand continues to be at a very high level, accounting for more than one third of all those in prison. Of that number, some 1200 people are awaiting sentence and many have been waiting for a long time.

The problem I see is that while people are waiting in custody, mostly they receive no interventions and a very large number are sentenced effectively to time served. The number of such sentences has doubled since 2015. This reflects the increasing length of time people are waiting for sentence while in custody.

I hope you will agree that the lengthy time delay to sentencing for those in custody should be avoided.

I have allocated an extra eight weeks of sentencing time in the Auckland, Manukau and Christchurch courts dedicated to those in custody awaiting sentence.

In order to use this valuable time effectively, the cases need to be ready to proceed on the allocated day.

I know that many things can get in the way of that happening, but I also know that with sufficient notice of problems, the barrier to proceeding can often be resolved.

In order to identify such barriers as early as possible, I am issuing a direction in respect of these cases which will require defence counsel, and Crown counsel where they are involved, to file a memorandum no later than 10 working days before the sentencing date certifying that the case is ready to proceed or specifying what barriers there are to the case proceeding.

The Department of Corrections is keen to support earlier resolution of these cases and will provide resources to attempt to deal with any barrier within its control. For example, if counsel advises in the memorandum that a new address needs to be assessed for an electronically-monitored sentence, early advice of this may enable a prompt assessment to be made ahead of the sentencing date.

If counsel are waiting for a specialist report, the memorandum will draw attention to that fact and steps may be able to be taken to expedite the provision of the report.

If there is good reason for the case not proceeding, then an early decision may be made to vacate the sentencing date, allowing for another case to be brought forward.

[Below] is a copy of the direction which will be sent by the respective registries to counsel engaged in the cases which are being given priority attention.

The aim of the process is to enable those waiting in custody for sentence to have early resolution of their cases.

In usual circumstances I would have preferred to discuss this direction with the profession in advance, but the urgency of the situation has not allowed for that.

Direction of Acting Chief Judge John Walker

(1) This direction is given in respect of those sentencing matters set down for hearing in Manukau, Auckland and Christchurch where the

defendant has been remanded in custody.

(2) The purpose of this direction is to reduce delay in sentencing by ensuring, as far as possible, that the sentencing is able to proceed on the allocated date.

(3) The direction is that counsel for each defendant is to file not later than 10 working days prior to the sentencing date a memorandum certifying either that the sentencing is ready to proceed or specifying what is necessary to enable sentencing to proceed.

(4) In case of a Crown sentencing, Crown counsel is required to file a memorandum in accordance with paragraph 3 to like effect.

(5) In any case other than where the matter is certified as ready to proceed, the registrar will forthwith send a copy of the memorandum to the probation officer engaged in the preparation of the presentence report and refer the memorandum to the sentencing judge who shall make such further directors as the judge sees fit.

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