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Wellington District Court Criminal List Court

This document describes the organisation and operation of the Wellington Criminal List Court for those interested in the special arrangements established at this Court. In particular, it updates the information reported in an evaluation report[1] of the system, as it was originally trialled at Wellington District Court.

1. Background

1.1 Law Commission Concerns

In a report published in December 2002[2], the Law Commission noted that, instead of serving the individual case, the Criminal List Court process might appear to overwhelm it. The Commission was particularly concerned that, due to the high volumes typically progressed through Criminal List Courts, and their sometimes chaotic character, defendants frequently spend unnecessarily long periods of time at the Court but leave feeling confused about what has happened and what is to happen next in relation to their case.

1.2 Pilot

In response to these concerns, the Department for Courts, now the Ministry of Justice, agreed to pilot a new approach to the operation of the Criminal List at the Wellington District Court. The aims of this approach were to:

  • Improve defendants' understanding of what was happening in the List Court process;
  • Reduce the amount of waiting time and visits to Court for defendants and others; and
  • Ensure that administrative matters were dealt with prior to the defendant appearing before a judge.

The Pilot began on 9 February 2004 and was scheduled to run for one year. During this year of operation, a number of changes were made to the original process design as new learning was made and as other factors, such as resource pressures, impacted on the Pilot.

1.3 Evaluation

The Ministry of Justice commissioned a formative evaluation[3] of the Pilot in order to:

  • Describe how the project was implemented;
  • Assess whether the pilot met its objectives (outlined in section 1.2,above);
  • Identify any issues arising during the pilot; and
  • Suggest improvements to the process.

The evaluation was largely qualitative, reflecting the focus the evaluation had on the processes (and taking into account changes to processes made during the life of the Pilot) and on the experience of those involved.

The Evaluation Report was published in April 2005[4].

The Report found that the objectives of the new system were substantially achieved and made some suggestions where further improvements could be made or additional work could be undertaken. All the improvements suggested in section 7.2 of the Evaluation Report have now been incorporated into the design of the Wellington List Court, or are matters that are subject to further investigation for improvement, except for:

  • The recommendation to co-locate Police and Registrars - this has not been implemented as there is currently no consensus that this is the correct course of action; and
  • The recommendation to review the contribution of earlier Legal Services Agency decisions (that is, prior to first attendance at Court)- this was not in scope of the Pilot, but is likely to be considered among other issues in the context of a review of initial criminal legal services currently being undertaken by the LSA and due to continue throughout 2006/2007, and in work arising from the Law Commission Report 89, Criminal Pre-Trail Processes: Justice Through Efficiency.

It is noted that there have also been other developments of List Court processes at Wellington since the Evaluation Report was published so that some of the information contained in the Evaluation Report is now no longer relevant.

1.4 Acceptance of pilot system and further improvements

Following the ending of the pilot period, the Ministry of Justice, together with its partner agencies, have determined that the Criminal List Court processes introduced at Wellington will be maintained.

Further changes are likely as a result of efforts of all the agencies involved in the operation of the List Court to make continuous improvement in their services. However, no further fundamental change to the Criminal List model that now exists at that the Wellington District Court is anticipated.

Design of the Wellington Criminal List

1.5 Principles

A number of principles inform the design of the Wellington Criminal List Court. These include:

  • Administrative matters should be dealt with, as far as possible, by the Registrar outside of the courtroom.
  • Systems, including inter-agency systems, should be designed to ensure that the number of appearances that a defendant makes at Court (i.e. the number of adjournments) is kept to a minimum. This is facilitated by applicable agency representatives with appropriate decision making authority being present at the Court and having ready access to relevant information (on the day, if possible).
  • Appearances before a judge should be limited to matters requiring the exercise of judicial discretion.
  • Defendants should be dealt with as soon as possible on a 'first-come first-served' basis (to provide an incentive for prompt appearance and to reduce waiting time).
  • Defendants should be provided with adequate opportunities to find out and understand what has, is and will happen regarding their case.
  • Defendants and lawyers should be given as much certainty as possible regarding the time at which their cases will be dealt with by the Court.

1.6 Building Layout and Staffing

A key element to the design of the Wellington List Court is the physical layout of the area of the court building from which the List Court operates. This layout is illustrated in Figure 1, below, and is critical in allowing the various participants in the list court process to effectively liase with each other and to undertake their respective roles.

The space is used as follows:

Registrar's Kiosk - Two Deputy Registrars occupy this area from 8.30 am until 10.00 am, when one Deputy Registrar remains until approximately mid-day (depending on demand). They exercise Registrar's powers and update CMS[5] from the counter (ie the traditional 'Registrar's List' is conducted from this area).

Police Area - A Police Prosecutor and an administrator occupy this area from 8.30 am. The Administration Officer leaves at 10.30 am. The Prosecutor stays until s/he has completed his/her role (usually until between 11.00 am and mid-day). The rooms have two counters. General enquiries, including the provision of disclosure packs, are handled from the counter, which opens from the Police Kiosk to the Restricted Area. Solicitors and defendants are able to have more private conversations with the Prosecutor, over the counter, if necessary, from the adjacent room. A second Police Prosecutor arrives at the court around 9.30 am for the Judge's List Court. S/he is stationed in the courtroom.

Restricted Area - This area is restricted to those with business in the List Court on the day until 9.45 am, when it is open to the public wishing to access the courtroom.

Information Desk - The information desk is staffed from 8.30 am until 10.00 am and provides a 'meet and greet' service for people coming to the Court. The staff member working at the Information Desk switches his/her role to Court Attendant at 10.00 am.

Duty Solicitor Interview Rooms - Interview rooms are provided for Duty Solicitors in which to see their clients.

LSA Office - An office is provided for the LSA to enable legal aid applications to be processed and counsel to be assigned at the court on the day.

Courtroom 1 - A judge sits from 10.00 am and determines matters needing judicial attention from the Registrar's list.

Community Probation - the Probation Office is located down the corridor.

Signage - Both static and removable signs are provided to guide defendants (and others) at different times. (eg Signs direct defendants to the Information Kiosk at the beginning of the day, but are changed to direct them to the Registrar's Kiosk or Floor 6 Reception Area once the Information Desk is closed.)

Figure 1 Schematic Outline of the Criminal List Court Area at Wellington District Court

figure-1.jpg

1.7 Overview of process

Defendants arrive at court and are asked for their names by the staff member at the Information Desk. Their arrival is noted on the List and those needing to see a Duty Solicitor are asked to wait. As Duty Solicitors become available, they approach the staff member on the Information Desk in order to identify the next person waiting to be seen. They are given a copy of the relevant summons, then are expected to collect a disclosure pack from the Police kiosk and call the defendant to interview them.

Defendants should then have all the administrative and preliminary needs of their cases attended to in the criminal list area. This should happen before they appear before a Judge and may include:

  • Receiving legal advice from a Duty Solicitor;
  • Getting a same-day appointment to plead 'Guilty' and be sentenced;
  • Getting bail conditions agreed by consent;
  • Getting an appointment time for another date for a first appearance before a judge when there is a reason for a remand;
  • Making arrangements for diversion;
  • Entering a 'Not Guilty' plea/election and being remanded for status hearing/pre-depositions hearing; and
  • Getting an interim suppression order by consent.

Where required, an application for legal aid should also be made. The Legal Services Agency is present from 9.00am - 10.30am at the Court, three days a week on list days to receive applications for legal aid and make decisions. At other times staff can be requested to attend and will do so within a few minutes or applications can be faxed to the Agency's office and decisions turned around promptly. The Deputy Registrar will generally not deal with a case until Legal Aid has been granted (or is not necessary).

The Judge's List, starting at 10.00 am, provides for an appointment system. Defendants whose cases cannot be fully dealt with in the List on the first day will be given remand appointment times for a further appearance in the List within time slots (e.g. the defendant will be required to attend on a date at 2.15 pm and will be called between 2.15 and 3.30 pm on that date).

The following appointment times for the Judge's List Court currently operate:

Session Activity Days of Week
10:00 - 11:30 am Guilty Pleas from Registrar's work from the same morning Mon, Wed, Thurs, Fri
10:00 am  

Sentencing and appointments

 

Thurs only

11:45 - 1:00 pm  

Sentencing and Appointments

 

Mon, Wed, Fri

2:15 - 3:30 pm &

3:45 - 5:00 pm

 

Opposed Bails and Appointments

Mon, Wed, Fri

Efforts are made to 'even out' the Judge's List by capping[6] where possible, and remanding cases to dates that staff know are available rather than by 'standard' lengths of time (eg remanding to a date 10 days out rather than to a standard 7 or 14 days).

Forms are provided to enable solicitors to book time in the Judge's List for their clients. This enables the court taker to group defendants so that one solicitor's cases can all be heard one after another (reducing the time that the solicitor needs to wait around the court). It also enables solicitors with other commitments (eg appearances in another Court) to have their cases in the List Court heard first as a priority. In addition, a telephone number has been provided for solicitors, who can ring before 8.30 am and leave a message to book priority time for a case in the Judge's List.

Just prior to when the Judge is due to sit, the Court Taker collects the relevant files, lists and solicitor's booking forms from the Registrars' kiosk and takes these into Court. The information desk is also closed (and signs put up indicating where late comers should report).

In Court, the Court Taker uses the information provided from the Registrar's Kiosk to determine the sequence in which cases are called. Cases are dealt with in the usual way by the Judge. However, in addition to the usual officers present in the Court, a Collections Officer and Probation Officer are generally present to make immediate contact with defendants who are fined, or are required to see a Probation Officer for whatever reason.

At approximately 11.30 am, the Deputy Registrar from the Registrars' Kiosk liases with the Information Desk Attendant and Police regarding those defendants who have not appeared. Where appropriate, warrants for arrest are issued or proceedings are enlarged to another day[7]. Information is prepared and given to the Police Prosecution to advise them of the outcomes of the morning's work.

The Wellington District Court also allows for applications for adjournment under section 45A of the Summary Proceedings Act 1957 (Registrar's adjournments by consent) to be made by e-mail using a standard template.

A Deputy Registrar checks to ensure that participants in the List Court (Police, Duty Solicitors, court staff, etc.) are present and on time and takes appropriate action when someone is absent. They are also available to help induct people who may be unfamiliar with the system at Wellington (eg new Duty Solicitors) into how the process is expected to operate.

Appendix 1 contains forms and other support tools used to administer the Wellington Criminal List Court.

November 2005

Appendix 1

Support Tools Used in the Administration of the Wellington Criminal List Court

Various documentation has been developed specifically to support the Wellington List process. This includes:

Forms

1. Duty Solicitor Booking forms (2): Completed by Duty Solicitors to enable their cases to be called at one time.

2. Priority List: Completed by solicitors who require their cases to be called at a particular time to avoid clashes with other commitments at Court.

3. Prosecutions Disclosure Receipt: Placed with each Police disclosure pack, completed by the defendant/solicitor when they collect the pack, and retained by the Police on the case file as proof that the disclosure pack has been collected.

4. Prosecution Bail Conditions Sought: Placed with Disclosure Pack to enable Solicitors to discuss bail with their clients.

5. Defendant next hearing slip: Completed and given to each defendant after each court event.

6. Results of cases processed by Registrar - Criminal List Pilot: Used to record outcomes of cases dealt with at the Registrars' kiosk, to advise Police Prosecutions at the end of the session.

7. Section 45A Application: Form used to apply for an adjournment by consent via email.

Letters

8. Police Diversion Letter: given to defendants who are eligible for diversion by the Police.

Information Pamphlets

9. Information for Duty Solicitors: Pamphlet provided to Duty Solicitors not familiar with the Wellington Criminal List process.


Footnotes

1 Ministry of Justice (2005) Evaluation of the Criminal List Pilot - Wellington District Court (ISBN 0-478-29000-4) April. See below, paragraph 1.3.

2. New Zealand Law Commission (2002) Seeking Solutions: Options for Change to New Zealand Court System (NZLC PP52) December

3 The intent of 'formative' evaluations is to strengthen a programmes, such as the List Court Pilot, by providing feedback on its implementation, progress and success. Consistent with this type of evaluation, information for the evaluation of the Wellington List Court was collected early on and throughout the period of the Pilot. In addition, changes were made to enhance the Pilot's effectiveness through the year of its operation, rather than waiting until the Pilot and evaluation were completed.

4 Ministry of Justice (2005) Evaluation of the Criminal List Pilot - Wellington District Court (ISBN 0-478-29000-4) April

5 CMS, of the Courts Management System, is the computer system used to manage cases at court.

6 Capping is limiting the size of lists to a maximum number of cases.

7 The term 'enlarge' means to put off, or extend the time for doing any step in proceedings. It has a similar meaning to the term 'adjourn', which means to postpone a hearing to a future date.


November 2005

Ministry of Justice
PO Box 180
Wellington
New Zealand

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