Pressure on time leads to delays in courts

The seventh of several parts relating to our Justice System

Can parents, who face charges, be called early in the court list? (Mothers, especially solo parents go to court, wait all day for their cases to be called, leave to pick up their children from school resulting in a warrant issued for their arrest and they are kept in custody until brought to court the next day)?

Why are cases heard only for a day and then adjourned, requiring all parties and witnesses who have taken a day off work to return on another date (eroding public confidence in the criminal justice system and costing the nation in productivity)?

The purpose of the List Court is to allow simple matters to be heard without allocating court time that would otherwise have been better used for more serious matters.

Unfortunately, given the large number of matters that are scheduled for List Court, it may take time for matters to be heard.

Furthermore, unforeseen circumstances may cause delays, which make the process even longer.

No exclusive time is allocated for hearing of those matters; they are dealt with as they fall during the course of the day.

Where counsels are appointed, their matters will be heard earlier in the day.

Judges are keen to see matters progress as fast as possible with everyone given the opportunity to be heard, but courts often drag on for a number of reasons.

List Courts normally finish between 430 pm and 5 pm.

As the court operates now, it is not possible to have specific times allocated; therefore it is necessary for parents to put arrangements in place for children to be picked up, thus avoiding the stress of not being able to get away on time.

Defended hearings

Defended hearings are scheduled to a particular day, and a number of matters are set down on that day. The length of time required is allocated based on estimates provided by counsel.

More cases are set down because matters often settle.

Often, about 16 hours’ worth of time might be set down when there is only eight hours of judicial time available, because settlement is reached in a lot of cases.

There are lot of cases waiting to go through the system and hence it is important that judicial time is fully used.

It is necessary to book more time than what, on the face of it, can be accommodated.

When matters do not settle, and there is not enough time to hear them, it means that they have to go off to another day.

Regrettably, that does happen, and the Judges acknowledge that this causes inconvenience. The courts are aware of that and try to keep it to a minimum.

Inevitable situation

Another reason is that counsels do not allow enough time in their estimate, and the matter has to go off part-heard.

That is problematical because it has to come back before the same Judge to be completed.

Therefore, it is important that the estimate provided by counsel is sufficient to deal with matters.

Judges are very mindful that people coming to court running businesses and have busy lives, and recognise that time spent in court is difficult, and although the system is challenged at times, the court endeavours to ensure people are not inconvenienced more than necessary.

The above is the response given by the judges of the Auckland District Court at their Community Day’ held at Fickling Convention Centre on September 24, 2012. The Editor of this newspaper was present at the meeting and the responses of the judges to a number of questions are published in a series. The responses are reproduced verbatim, as given by the judges. The first five parts appeared in our November 15, December 1, December 15, 2012, February 15, March 1, March 15, and April 1, 2013 issues.

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