The investment comes from the COVID-19 Response and Recovery Fund
“COVID-19 has meant a number of core public services face funding pressures due to lower revenue, or backlogs due to the lockdown. Courts have been particularly affected due to an inability to hold trials during the lockdown,” Justice Minister Andrew Little said.
He said that the pandemic had caused over 47,000 District Court proceedings to be either adjourned or rescheduled.
“There was a 62% drop in disposed cases during Alert Level 4—that’s over 6,000 fewer cases being closed. While the courts have worked hard to get this backlog to pre-COVID levels, there will continue to be a delay in jury trials and Family Court proceedings,” Little said. “This package will make a significant difference to those who have had their court cases delayed due to COVID-19, and help the court system tackle the backlog.”
Five District Court judges, four acting High Court judges, one acting associate judge and approximately 40 full-time support staff will receive the funding, he said. It would also allow for additional police prosecution staff to be brought in to support criminal court events, as well as extra corrections prisons officers for those held on remand.
Moreover, the investment will be used to provide transportation to and from court, and support audio-visual link appearances for hearings. It will also be applied to Oranga Tamariki for the boost in care and protection of children applications, and to Crown Law in order to increase Crown prosecution work.
“The delay in some matters coming to court was already unacceptable; COVID-19 has compounded things and put a strain on an already-struggling justice system. Together, the judiciary and Ministry of Justice staff have worked hard to continue essential court operations during lockdown and, as much as possible, ensure people are getting timely access to justice,” Little said.
In addition, the funding gives courts the resources to handle cases involving breaches of lockdown protocol.
“People who put lives at risk by thinking the rules didn’t apply to them need to realise the consequences that their actions could have meant for the team of 5 million,” Little said.
He said the provision of funding highlights how dealing with the effect of the COVID-19 pandemic requires “a collective effort.”
“The effects of COVID-19 will be felt for a while, but this investment will relieve the pressure on the court system,” Little said.