Caseloads at Tauranga’s District Court are at record highs.
“The most ever,” says an in-house Ministry of Justice factsheet slipped to The Weekend Sun.
“You don’t have to be an expert to understand it’s pretty serious,” says Tauranga MP Simon Bridges. “I have done this work.” He’s a former Crown Prosecutor and worked at these courts.
The March 2019 fact puts total active cases [cases before the court] at 1041.
“This is the most ever and an increase of 13 per cent compared to March 2019.”
It also tells the MP crime is getting worse in the Bay of Plenty. “It’s significant and worrying.”
The Ministry of Justice fact sheet is a discussion document for Criminal Local Justice Sector Network meetings which include the Ministry, police, corrections and public defense service.
“The District Court is the largest operational court in New Zealand and as a result, caseload is demand driven and therefore this is a point of discussion at Criminal Local Justice Sector Network meetings,” says Jacquelyn Shannon, the Ministry’s group manager of operations and service delivery.
The factsheet also says: “total serious harm cases in the trial stage are at a record high, increasing 29 per cent from March 2018”. Serious harm cases are category three and four offences.
Category three includes aggravated assault, kidnapping or threatening to kill – offences punishable by imprisonment for two or more years. Category four offences are the most serious – murder and manslaughter – punishable by life imprisonment, or by imprisonment for two or more years.
Nationally, the March factsheet said total active cases for serious harm is at an all-time high.
“I am told the Crown has 12 murder cases in its books involving children – a wider area than just Tauranga,” says Simon. And ultimately, the MP says responsibility can been sheeted back to the Government.
“I have complete solidarity with the police, the lawyers and the courts, but ultimately the government's where the buck stops. You can't talk about softening up on bail and sentencing, you can't fail to put more police out on the street without it having an effect.
And cases are moving through our court at a slower rate. The average time “to dispose” remains at 79 days, an increase of six percent compared to March 2018. The notable increases are the trial and sentencing stages – up 14 and 15 percent on March 2018.
“We work to continuously improve our processes to help make sure New Zealand is a safe and just society,” says the Ministry’s Jacquelyn Shannon.
The Weekend Sun wanted to know whether the problem was caused by a bottleneck in the court system or by increased crime.
We submitted questions to the Minister for Courts Andrew Little. His office told us he preferred to discuss issues rather than answer written questions, however the Minister has still not responded to our request after more than three weeks and several approaches.
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