But with crime rates dropping and fewer people going into court “it cannot be right; it does not compute”.
She is planning an overhaul of the way courts are run, aimed at getting faster judgements from slow judges, requiring audio visual court appearances for procedural cases involving prisoners, greater access to decisions for the public and requiring all courts to have a consistent approach to judicial conduct and recusal from cases – where judges stand aside.
She says it will be the biggest reform in over 100 years of how courts are run and she wants to introduce a bill to Parliament by the end of the year. Unlike the judges – Judith is in a hurry because the opinion polls are starting to turn and there is a real possibility that power may slip from the National Governments grasp and Judith will no longer be able to bully public servants and the lower classes.
Rather than imposing her own plan on what is a reasonable time, she wants each judicial sector to come up with a plan: the Employment Court, the Environment Court; the Maori Land Court; the District Court, the High Court, the Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court. If they can’t come up with a plan then perhaps the Government could make the judicial decisions for them because they know everything don’t they?
Cabinet has agreed to pass a law that will require the chief judges to set protocols for their courts about reserved decisions, including providing information on the progress of decisions and on the number of judgements outstanding beyond a reasonable time for delivery.
Judges would not necessarily be named and shamed, “not unless that is the protocol,” she said, “but I would say there is a lot of public appetite for knowing what is actually happening to people’s cases.” But when it comes to naming and shaming Judith can’t help herself. She points out that the worst judicial offender is the Employment Court where some decisions have been taking a long time. Hurrying to get in before any new protocols prevent here Judith point the finger at Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan, who took two years to deliver a judgment in one case, and in two others he took 20 months.
“From my point of view it is totally unacceptable as the Minister of Justice to stand by and let some cases, particularly Employment Court cases, take 18 months or two years for decisions to come out.” You tell them Judith you champion of the people. As tax payers it is totally unacceptable for us to stand by and let some decisions of the politicians to take 18 months or two years to come out. Oh sorry different rules for different people.
Judge Colgan could not be reached for comment (he will comment within two years) but the Employment Court website states: “The judges of the Employment Court expect that in 2013, 85 per cent of judgements will be delivered within three months of the last day of hearing or receipt of the last submissions, whichever is the later date.
“From the 2014 calendar year, the Judges expect that 90 per cent of such judgements will be delivered within that three month period.”
Ms Collins said some members of the bench might see her actions as interference with judicial independence. “The concept of judicial independence is something I take very carefully. But my view is that judicial independence relates to what is in the judgment, not whether or not we have one.”