Uncertainty whether High Court will set timeframes for cases

The High Court has not said whether it will follow the District Court in setting new targets around how long cases should take to be completed.

Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu published the new guidelines last week. He wanted 90 percent of criminal cases disposed of within the timeframes, depending on the seriousness of the charges.

When asked whether the High Court was considering a similar move, Chief High Court Judge Sally Fitzgerald said it did not have published case-length targets, but was continuously looking at ways to improve timely access to justice.

“The High Court’s judicial management committee is continuously monitoring and assessing the volume and timeliness of proceedings moving through the High Court, by reference to a range of measures.”

There were “a number” of initiatives in place to speed up the system, she said. These included guidelines introduced last year which aimed to reduce the number of criminal trials adjourned because of delays in disclosure.

“Indications so far are that the Practice Note is having a positive impact, and is also providing a forum in which other matters can be raised and addressed ahead of trial.”

This year a group of experienced judges was looking closely at the court’s rostering and scheduling practices, and how commercial proceedings were managed – work which was expected to continue over the next few months.

A new case management system in the court’s civil jurisdiction was also helping to identify cases amenable to early settlement.

Justice Fitzgerald said much of the High Court’s work involved reserved judgments, where a judge delivered their decision at a later date. The court did have a target for how long this took, aiming for 90 percent delivered within three months of the last hearing.

“The High Court’s judgment delivery times are excellent,” the justice said.

“In 2023, 91.4 percent of civil judgments were delivered within three months of hearing. In the criminal jurisdiction, 94 percent of criminal judgments were delivered within one month of the hearing, and 99 percent were delivered within three months of the hearing.”

However, she noted the court was constrained by the number of judges and courtrooms available and, like its District Court counterpart, also relied on the wider justice system.

The High Court also dealt with the most serious criminal charges – including murder, manslaughter and attempted murder, as well as serious sexual, drug and violent offending.

“The seriousness and complexity of the charges tried in the High Court means prosecution and defence lawyers usually require a minimum of 12 months to be ready for trial,” Justice Fitzgerald said.

“Issues or constraints in one part of the system can and often do impact the progression of a court proceeding through the High Court. For this reason, the High Court judges work with justice sector and other agencies, such as Corrections, Police, the Ministry of Justice, Te Whatu Ora, and various legal profession organisations, to try to find ways to improve the timeliness of court proceedings.”

According to the news on Radio New Zealand

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