Covid’s restrictions have disrupted the legal system so much that some people spend more time in prison awaiting trial than they would be sentenced if found guilty, a lawyer says.
The lockdown was also causing concern that serious cases would be dropped after being suspended midway when the country moved to level 4.
The judicial system was already under great pressure after last year’s outbreaks, and the delay simply increased.
Nationwide, nearly 20,000 court events have been postponed or rescheduled due to level 3 and 4 restrictions.
That included more than 150 jury trials, four of which were by attorney Marie Taylor-Cypher.
“These people who had been preparing for their trials for a year or 18 months are now in a position where they have no idea, nor do I, when their trial will be heard.”
For two cases, which should now have completed their trials, neither of the remand prisoners can get new dates. One of which has to wait until December to find out when it will come out.
Taylor-Cyphers said it was incredibly frustrating, but for the defendants it was devastating.
“It’s all they think about, it’s the most important thing in their life most of the time.
“Some of these people are in custody, that means they are in jail and were waiting for the outcome of the trial to be released because they were found innocent.
“Or in some cases, and two of mine are like that, they are in jail and at the moment, even if they are found guilty, if everything goes wrong, they would have been in jail longer than they would have been even if they were sentenced.” .
Covid-19 had broken the legal system, and that system hadn’t worked out how to catch up, Taylor-Cyphers said.
Courts, judges and courtrooms are already booked until the end of next year, to deal with the 2020 delays.
Auckland Crown Attorney Brian Dickey said that could mean that some of these current suspended cases might not be heard until 2023.
But it was not only a concern for the accused, it also caused problems for the whistleblowers.
“Some victims will not return for a second trial after a date has been postponed.
“They are very emotionally involved on that date, and if it doesn’t move forward, even though it’s no one’s fault, it can be very difficult to get the victim back for another trial in six to 12 months, particularly in the area of sexual violence.”
Dickey said that after the close of 2020 they lost several cases because the whistleblowers did not want to go through the process again.
There were dozens of cases in Auckland alone that were halfway through, or nearly complete, but had to be abandoned when Covid returned to the community, Dickey said.
These included one for murder and one case of sexual violence from multiple whistleblowers.
The president of the New Zealand Bar Association, Paul Radich, said that this number of court interruptions had never happened before, not even during the world wars.
“The courts have always been able to function up to a point.
“Judges and bankers are having to do their best to operate as much as they can remotely through the use of technology, while maintaining public safety by postponing jury trials until we return to level 2.”
Radich said a ranking system would soon be put in place to reorganize suspended trials.
“Cases that were scheduled for jury trials will be evaluated to find out when they can move forward. In some cases, it may not be until well into the next year, and in other cases, gaps in the schedule may arise as cases unfold. they shuffle in terms of order of priority. “
New Zealand Chief Justice Dame Helen Winkelmann has said jury trials are likely to start again at alert level 2.
According to the Corrections website, the time spent in pretrial detention is subtracted from a person’s total sentence time.