Video-link ban increases pressure on courts

Court staff have cranked up their industrial action – expensively – with a ban on video-link court appearances.

They will also ban all pre-arranged sentencings, though people who plead guilty may still be sentenced on the spot. The action means some remand prisoners may spend longer in custody.

The national ban applies to Public Service Association members who have so far been working to rule and sometimes striking in support of a pay claim.

However, in Christchurch the ban will apply to all video-link appearances.

It means that people arrested will have to be brought to the courts instead of appearing on screen from police cell areas and prisoners on remand will have to be brought in by prison van from the prisons when they have appearances.

All the courts in the one-year-old Christchurch Justice Precinct are equipped for appearances by video-link with large television screens mounted high on the walls and registrars controlling appearances by computers at their desks.

The ban also affected a judge-alone burglary trial which was due to take place in Christchurch today, because some evidence was due to be heard by video-link from a witness in Auckland. The trial was being put off, but an arrest warrant was also issued by Judge Gary MacAskill because the alleged woman burglar did not turn up at court.

The industrial action is now in its seventh week. Several strikes have been held including a half-day strike on Wednesday afternoon which closed court buildings all over the country. In Christchurch, staff took to the streets with placards supporting their pay claim.

The work-to-rule involves staff all taking their breaks at the same time. This means that courts have to halt sittings at times because of lack of staff, and the Justice Precinct has been closed for an hour from 12.30pm each day while they all have their lunch break.