Tuesday, December 30, 2008

Slow road to justice puts trials `at risk'

Stuffed justice.

After reading the article titled “Slow road to justice puts trials at risk (Press Dec 26)’, I find it rather disturbing that our justice system is suffering from a huge backlog of cases, which is causing long delays in the delivery of natural justice.

Some will argue the systematic failure is caused through the over inflated egos of defence lawyers or the adversarial approach to litigation, while others may blame the Ministry of Justice unreasonable trial roster schedules and various appeal law rights.

I would have thought that the obscene salaries paid to senior Ministry of Justice officials, Law Commissioners and judges would have created an effective system that provides a satisfactory service that maintains acceptable standards for the public.

Is kiwi justice having 70% of people that are unfortunate enough to be remanded in custody this Christmas either acquitted or face no further jail time after sentence come 2009?

No matter what, the judge’s gavel or the turkey gobble, you will get stuffed either way.


Slow road to justice puts trials `at risk'

A quarter of Christchurch jury trials are at risk for taking more than a year to reach court.

Figures obtained from the Ministry of Justice show 41 of 150 Christchurch District Court cases awaiting trial have run 12 months or more from the date of charge.

Wellington lawyer and former MP Stephen Franks said the figures were a scandal.

"The system we've got is a disgrace," he said.

If cases take too long they can be abandoned (given a stay) for violating the right to a prompt trial.

In one Christchurch case of an assault with intent to injure on two people in Colombo Street in November 2005, the trial did not begin until July 2007.

At the trial, an issue arose with a juror and a retrial was ordered. Owing to "pressure of business upon the court", the new trial could not be held before February 11 this year two years and three months after the alleged assault.

In ordering a stay, Judge Philip Moran said: "As at August 22, 2007, there were 141 trials outstanding in the Christchurch District Court; 36 of them were `at risk' inasmuch as more than 12 months had elapsed since the date of charge."

Of the 150 cases currently awaiting trial, 34 have at least one person remanded in custody.

Queen's Counsel Nigel Hampton said such numbers were unacceptable in light of statistics that showed about 70 per cent of people remanded in custody were either acquitted or did not receive a jail sentence.

"It's far too long," he said. "We should be looking to a system that has the ability to go from arrest to trial in, ideally, six months."

Christchurch figures are on a par with Wellington's, but 58% of Auckland cases are more than a year old.

Christchurch has addressed the problem of cases involving child-sex complainants.

In August last year, 40 of the outstanding cases were for sexual offences, with 17 of those involving child complainants. Currently, 23 of the cases awaiting trial are for sexual offences, but none is for a child complainant, the ministry says.

Franks said the system was "groaning under the weight of detail" presented in cases.

"The trouble is the legal profession the insane pride with the care they prepare things," he said.

Franks said the system was "bedevilled by appeals against sentence", which could be fixed by penalising "fanciful" appeals.

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