Simon Power talking on Q+A on Sunday showed a abysmal ignorance about how matters operate in his own portfolio. He blamed lawyers and juries for slowing the court system down. My experience in courts says that he is wrong – it is usually the police slowing things down. The lawyers agree here.
He is correct when he says
No that wasn’t part of the thinking, what was driving the issue was the delays that we’ve been seeing in our justice system, in the District Court for example, on average it takes about 12 months before a trial kicks off, in the High Court it’s about sixteen and a half months over the 2008 year. We have to address this, this is not without controversy I accept that, but the fact is our criminal justice system has not been delivering justice served seen to be done in a timely and helpful fashion. Victims of crime find this process incredibly difficult.
But I’d point out that it is even harder on the people who are charged with crimes, and who have to keep turning up to court for status hearings where the police say that they’re not ready to proceed, and are kept waiting to get a final hearing. Juries at at the tail end of a large number of status hearings, so removing juries is unlikely to speed the process by more than minutes. If the evidence was presented to the defense lawyers earlier then time taken would be reduced immensely.
Yes we are, which leads me neatly into the third issue which is that I think it’s time that the courts were able to hold lawyers, both prosecution and defense to account, for not moving through hearings in a timely and appropriate way. I just think we’re at the point now where the gaming of the system around the criminal justice processes has to be front footed.
I believe what we’re seeing is the system being badly incentivised, particularly around legal aid, to encourage multiple appearances on issues that should be dealt with in a short and timely way at first appearance … This gaming of the criminal justice system has got to stop.
This is total bollocks. It is a typical case of a politician looking for what they’d like to believe rather than doing the research to find out what is actually going on. In other words political game-playing.
Anyone who has had to sit through criminal status hearings is aware that the problem is almost entirely due to the slowness of the police in finalising their case and producing evidence for the court. It is completely routine for defendants and their lawyers to turn up at court, and have the police or their lawyers say that they are not ready to proceed. Typically this is because they haven’t furnished the defense lawyers with the required evidence, usually because they haven’t got very much and so haven’t finished bulking it up. It is common to have the police proceed with a case until the final date and then simply not proceed at that point through lack of evidence.
If Simon Power wants to have ‘incentivised’ the system, then I’d suggest two things would help considerably in making sure that the police focus more attention on their case for the prosecution.
First: Require that the police to have to get their case checked for strength prior to the first status hearing by lawyers, and rejected if it doesn’t have the legs. In other words, have an actual prosecution office staffed by lawyers to check the police case. That will stop the police from using the courts as an extra-legal punishment by arbitrarily charging without evidence. Some of the cases that I’ve seen brought are so weak that the judges have sometimes not bothered to hear the defense before dismissing the case.
Second: Get the courts to award costs against the NZ Police in the event that a case is dropped or lost after the first status hearing. Make these costs a separate part of the police budget so that it can be monitored. Hopefully that would provide some incentives for police managers to ensure that the quality of their prosecutions is increased.
If those things were done, then I suspect that there would be a considerable clearing of the court calendar. However I suspect that Power’s statements have more to do with providing a ‘political’ topic for the redneck BBQ’s and dinners than solving the clogged court problem.