Judges, lawyers set to meet about workload concerns

Law groups are worried about the impact of current scheduling practices on lawyers’ wellbeing

Judges, lawyers set to meet about workload concerns

Chief High Court Judge Justice Susan Thomas and Chief District Court Judge Heemi Taumaunu have announced that they will hold meetings with legal professionals across the country to discuss concerns about increasing workloads in criminal and civil courts.

This came as a response to calls made by several law groups – including the New Zealand Law Society | Te Kāhui Ture o Aotearoa, Auckland District Law Society, and the New Zealand Bar Association – to address the intensive scheduling of cases designed to clear backlogs exacerbated by the coronavirus lockdowns.

The series of meetings, which will be held in the main centres of the District and High Court civil and criminal jurisdictions early this year, is aimed at providing judges and lawyers a venue to discuss the issue directly.

In a statement, the New Zealand Law Society said the group welcomed the acknowledgement from the District and High Courts about the effects of the present scheduling practices on the lawyers’ workloads and wellbeing.

“We are acutely aware of the impact the current backlogs are having and want to contribute to proposed initiatives to address them such as through the new District Court Criminal Process and Backlog Improvement Programme,” the Law Society said.

“At the same time, we are also mindful of the importance of achieving a balance between progressing cases in a timely manner and allowing adequate preparation time, so that members of the profession, and others in the justice system, do not risk suffering from burnout.”

The meetings follow similar monthly meetings chaired by Justice Thomas and Judge Taumaunu with various legal professional groups, which were aimed at discussing concerns brought about by the COVID-19 shutdowns. Previous attendees included the Law Society, the New Zealand Bar Association, Auckland District Law Society, Defence Lawyers Association NZ, Criminal Bar Association, Te Hunga Rōia Māori, the Pacific Lawyers Association, the Ministry of Justice, and Crown Law.

“The meetings have provided a unique opportunity to collaboratively discuss issues between the profession and the judiciary and we are grateful for the opportunity to engage at this level,” the Law Society said.

“It’s also pleasing to see in the most recent correspondence the judges paying tribute to the increased cooperation and constructive engagement with the profession that has developed through 2020. The Law Society looks forward to continuing that engagement throughout 2021.”

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