Lengthy delays in the District Courts are expected to be slashed thanks to a new time-blocking system.
From this month onwards all sentencing, crown sentencing, case reviews and jury trial call-over events will be scheduled into time blocks – meaning rather than being expected to come to court for the day from the morning, court users will be asked to come along for a certain block of time.
Lists are expected to be time-blocked shortly after.
The move was a bid to help improve the experience of all court users, District Courts general manager Tony Fisher told NZLawyer.
“In the past, people appearing in court have been required to turn up at court at the beginning of the day and many have to wait hours for their matter to be heard. The worst case scenario – a wait up to seven hours.
“This is not a good use of the time of our partners such as Corrections, Police and lawyers. This is also an added stress for victims of crime, and a lot to ask of the family members and friends who come to support them.”
All District Courts “with sufficient volume” made the move on April 1, with the actual logistics of scheduling being determined by the individual courts. Court staff will be working with local stakeholders to determine scheduling of time blocks that make sense for each court.
“Time-blocks are managed at a local level by the courts as they are best placed to know when adjustments are needed.
“For example, a district court might schedule a day’s sentencing events into 3 x 75 minutes blocks. Participants will be asked to be at court by the start of the time block to which their event is assigned.”
A number of courts have been using a similar system for a while, he said.
“At a national level, the Ministry monitors the frequency and reasons for adjournments and we will be able to identify if there are issues.”
Getting the full benefit from these changes will depend on all court users coming to court at their scheduled time.
“As in the past, an arrest warrant will be issued [if they are not on time]. The court, however, may choose to wait a few hours or until the end of the day before issuing the warrant,” Fisher told NZLawyer.
A substantial upgrade to the technology used to schedule cases has made time-blocking easier, so a time and date for the next hearing can be set before the parties leave the courtroom.
“Real time scheduling also paves the way for future developments, such as providing Police and Corrections improved visibility to up to date court schedules and first appearance availability.”
Fisher noted the need of balancing reducing wait times with the best use of judicial time.
“Initially this will be addressed by a “morning heavy” approach to scheduling to ensure that there are sufficient cases to proceed with.”
He said the Ministry was investigating a number of initiatives to modernise the courts and “to deliver modern, people-centred justice services”.