29 Jan 2015

Minister to meet judges critical of delays

8:46 pm on 29 January 2015

Justice Minister Amy Adams is to meet Christchurch judges following their public criticism of a new law that has caused backlogs for courts throughout the country.

Amy Adams

Amy Adams Photo: SUPPLIED

Under changes to the Sentencing Act last month, every case that has a victim must be referred to a restorative justice conference.

South Island lawyers say Christchurch's restorative justice programme is so under-resourced that every week it falls another six weeks behind.

Radio New Zealand news reported there had been delays at courts including in Christchurch, Whanganui and Hamilton as cases went on hold while restorative justice providers found victims and formally asked if they wanted to meet their offender.

Law Society's South Island vice-president Allister Davis told Nine to Noon this morning the law had to be reviewed quickly, "otherwise the system is going to collapse".

"This is more than a bedding in issue," he said. "This is an issue which is going to just continue to exacerbate the delay of the criminal justice system."

Ms Adams said she had read media reports of criticism by some judges and was concerned they were finding the changes difficult. In a rare move, the minister is meeting judges this afternoon.

The minister said the expansion of restorative justice services had gone reasonably well in most places but she was aware that in some areas it had not gone as smoothly as expected.

Ms Adams said after the meeting she had given assurances to members of Christchurch's judiciary that any teething problems around the restorative justice requirement would be worked out.

The roll out had gone reasonably well but there have been some teething problems in some centres, she said.

"Too many cases are being fed into that restorative justice pipeline, meaning that there was a lot of time and energy for everyone sorting through all of those cases to identify the ones that were really suitable for restorative justice.

"Only by relooking at the processes to ensure that only the cases that are likely to be suitable go through will find the resource that is there used far more efficiently."

Wellington High Court

Photo: RNZ / Diego Opatowski