Judges move to speed up cases

Memo Christchurch offenders: Failing to take your court dates seriously is likely to buy you time in the cells.

Christchurch judges have moved to stop some of the “churn” that is stopping cases moving quickly through the criminal justice system.

Christchurch District Court Judge Alistair Garland today announced that the old arrangement where people could make voluntary appearances at court was “no longer in vogue”.

Local judges had discussed the problem of people simply not turning up for their court appearances, and had decided that the system of voluntary appearances would be stopped.

Under that more lenient system, people who turned up at court when it suited them, after an earlier failure when an arrest warrant was issued, were simply given a new appearance date by staff.

They would then probably turn up on the new date and the case would be on the move through the system again.

Judge Garland announced in the main list court today that the judges had told staff they were no longer to give people dates for “voluntary appearances”.

When people turned themselves in by fronting up at the court counters, the warrant was to be executed. That effectively means being arrested on the spot and delivered to a judge in court as soon as possible.

That will often mean a wait in the cells, and if the person comes in late in the day it will probably mean spending overnight in custody before re-release on bail can be considered.

Defendants failing to turn up at court is one of many reasons why cases often don’t progress quickly.

In other cases, court-ordered reports might not be ready in time, or checks on bail addresses might have to be done, or legal aid might only just have been arranged and assigned, or there may have been a muddle of dates of times by lawyers or defendants. Issues with police providing the defence with paperwork on cases sometimes cause delays.

When warrants are issued for non-appearance, the defendants sometimes receive a visit from the police and are brought to court, or the warrants wait until the next time they come in contact with the authorities. While the warrant is waiting in the system, people have previously been able to make voluntary appearances.

The case prompting today’s announcement involved an 18-year-old who was due to be sentenced in February on charges of being disguised for a burglary and possession of equipment for using cannabis.

Judge Garland was surprised to see the man walking into the dock from the public seating, to make a voluntary appearance, after the judges had told staff to stop using that arrangement.

From now on, he will be expecting to see people being brought in from the cells, or appearing on screen from the cells in such cases.

The judge considered the bail arrangements after hearing that the teenager had failed to appear at court twice while the case was working through the system. Defence counsel Rachel Wood explained that the teenager had been caring for his mother, who was ill with cancer, and had been at Dunedin hospital with her where she was undergoing surgery at the time of his last scheduled appearance.

Judge Garland eventually granted bail and remanded the youth for sentencing on July 18.

Miss Wood said a pre-sentence report had already been prepared and recommended supervision, but Judge Garland increased the pressure by ordering a new report to assess the youth’s suitability for community or home detention.

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