Changes “in prospect” – Chief High Court Judge

Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann sees changes afoot in the court thanks to the Judicature Modernisation Bill.

Changes “in prospect” – Chief High Court Judge
Chief High Court Judge Helen Winkelmann has made a nod to the controversial Judicature Modernisation Bill in her annual report outlining the courts’ operation in 2014.

The report, released this month, also reviewed workload in criminal and civil cases and measures made to make the work of the court more understandable and accessible.

In looking ahead to the rest of 2015, Justice Winkelmann observed: “Some changes are in prospect.”

“The Judicature Modernisation Bill envisages the operation of a commercial panel in the High Court.”

The Bill - an omnibus bill to repeal the Judicature Act 1908, the framework for law surrounding New Zealand courts - passed its second reading in Parliament in February, and is being hailed by the government as a way of helping deliver a 21st century justice system.

Created in a bid to modernise courts, the 1,226 page document revised the laws under which courts operate, by way of five new Acts and the amendment of 17 existing ones.

But the bill has ruffled feathers; with some saying it lacks protection for an independent judiciary.

Earlier this year, in a speech at his final sitting, retiring Supreme Court Judge Sir John McGrath expressed his concern at the removal of a provision on the rule of law from legislation governing the Supreme Court.

The new Acts include the Electronic Courts and Tribunals Act, which paves the way for the use of electronic documents in New Zealand’s courts and tribunals; the Senior Courts Act, covering the High Court, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court; the District Court Act; the Judicial Review Procedure Act; and the Interest on Money Claims Act, which further defines the process for courts awarding interest on claims involving monetary amounts.

Once passed, the provisions requiring this are will come into force by Order in Council, Justice Winkelmann said in her report.

The Rules Committee will consult with the profession on a set of rules for access to court documents.

“These rules are designed to be easier to follow. They will provide a better indication of the Court’s approach to applications made at different stages of the proceeding.

“They also combine rules for access to both civil and criminal records.”

In addition to the operation changes, the Court would continue to improve its own performance, improve public understanding of the Court and its role, and work with the Ministry of Justice on improving information available to court users both before they come to court, and at court, Justice Winkelmann said.

Justice Winkelmann’s report can be viewed here.

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