24 Jul 2020

Government announces $50 million package to help ease backlog in courts

6:28 am on 24 July 2020

The government has pulled $50 million from the Covid-19 Response and Recovery Fund to ease backlog in the justice system.

28072016 Photo: Rebekah Parsons-King. Napier Court

Photo: RNZ / Rebekah Parsons-King

Courthouses all but shut their doors ahead of the nationwide lockdown; suspending jury trials for more than four months.

More than 47,000 hearings in the district court alone were adjourned as a result and there are now more than 3000 jury trials on the books, 500 of them from the lockdown period.

The disruption has prompted concern from the legal profession about access to timely justice and inefficiencies in a system that was already backlogged before the Covid-19 pandemic.

Justice Minister Andrew Little expressed concern about the delays earlier this month and has now announced a $50 million package to help ease the backlog.

The money will fund five district court judges, four acting High Court judges, one acting Associate judge and around 40 full-time support staff.

It will also provide more resourcing for the Police Prosecution Service, Corrections, Oranga Tamariki and Crown Law.

Little said the delays in some court cases were already unacceptable and the Covid-19 pandemic just added strain to an already-struggling system.

"Given it's a court system that was already under pressure, it was important we made the right approach about getting more resources in to address not only the effects of Covid-19, but to make sure the existing backlogs didn't get worse."

He said people could expect to see improvements in delays as soon as next year, with all additional resources in place by the end of the year.

"I do expect this to make a material difference. I would have thought by part way through next year we ought to see some of those times coming back and lawyers, their clients and victims of crimes knowing that matters will be brought on in a more timely way."

Little said the money would also help courts deal with the Covid-19-related prosecutions, like breaches of lockdown restrictions.

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