Ministry collects stats on hefty District Court delays

In the 12 months to April 2019, the Auckland District Court dealt with 8,000 new criminal cases.

That the district courts are busy places isn’t exactly news but, in a bid to make the system more efficient, the Ministry of Justice has begun collecting statistical information about each individual case and how it progresses through the criminal justice process.

The ministry is trying to ensure the reasons for adjournments are accurately recorded so, where possible, persistent inefficiencies within the system can be identified and resolved. This is particularly important when the issue relates, for instance, to the failure to provide disclosure or the late provision of a pre-sentence or restorative justice report.

Disappointingly, but perhaps unsurprisingly, the average case on the judge-alone trial track waits 192 days – more than six months – before it is dealt with at a hearing.

Other cases will take an average of 127 days – more than four months – before they are finally dealt with at sentencing. The average case will come to court at least six times before it is finally dealt with.

Although adjournments can occur for various reasons, a significant portion of the blame can be placed at the feet of the defence bar. The most common reasons given for adjournments at each stage of the criminal justice process are said to be because the defence case is not ready or because further discussion with prosecutors is required.

But sometimes it is difficult to tell exactly who is to blame. In a busy list court where the registrar is tasked with juggling multiple files, the reasons for adjournments can be difficult to accurately assess. So, if late disclosure by the prosecution has led the defence to seek an adjournment, it would be inaccurate to say the defence had caused the delay.

If matters are to be adjourned, it would be helpful for the parties, and particularly defence counsel, to ensure the reasons for any adjournment are correctly recorded by the registry.

If there are any queries about the statistics gathering process, parties are advised to contact the scheduling team at their local court or the ADLS Criminal Law Committee.

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