New Zealand Ministry of Justice

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The New Zealand Ministry of Justice "exists to create a fairer and safer New Zealand and provides many services on behalf of government to help achieve this." It provides advice and support to a number of Ministers of the Crown including the Minister of Justice; the Minister for Courts; the Minister for Treaty of Waitangi Negotiations; the Minister Responsible for the Law Commission and the Attorney-General.[1]

Leadership and staff[edit]

The Ministry of Justice has a ten member Strategic Leadership Team led by Andrew Bridgman, Secretary for Justice and Chief Executive.[2] The Ministry employs approximately 3,800[3] staff around New Zealand and delivers a variety of services including the administration of court services and the collection of fines. The Ministry also provides policy advice to the Minister of Justice, assists with the negotiation of Treaty of Waitangi claims and the running of parliamentary elections.[4]

As of 2012 Judith Collins is the Minister of Justice.

Functions[edit]

Policy development[edit]

The Ministry has a number of policy teams which provide advice to the Government of the day on legal issues and any new legislation which is being proposed. The teams conduct research and evaluate policy relating to civil, criminal, and constitutional law, foreshore and seabed issues and Treaty of Waitangi negotiations. The Ministry also manages input from the public when legislation on justice issues is being considered.[5]

The New Zealand Law Commission also provides advice on legal and justice issues and is part of the justice sector. However, the Law Commission is an independent body[6] whereas the Ministry of Justice is not. The MOJ provides advice to the Minister but ultimately is required to implement and administer whatever policies the government of the day passes into legislation.[citation needed]

Providing support to judiciary[edit]

The Ministry ensures that judges are provided with administrative and technological support, as well as administering funding for judicial training and development. The Ministry has a difficult role in that it supports both the executive and the judicial arms of government. However, it co-operates with the judiciary to ensure that its constitutional independence from Government is maintained.[7]

Operational services[edit]

The Ministry's official website states: "The Ministry provides administration, case management and support services to the Supreme Court, Court of Appeal, High Court, District Court, special jurisdictions, and a range of tribunals and authorities in 103 locations around New Zealand". It also provides

"registry services, claims administration, research services, hearings management, judicial support and report-writing services for the Waitangi Tribunal. The Ministry negotiates for the settlement of historical claims arising from the Treaty of Waitangi, and manages land for use in settlements".[8]

Services provided by the Ministry include the administration of legal aid, the Public Defence Service, information about domestic violence and protection orders, separation and divorce, jury service, enforcing civil debt, and how to access wills and other records. The Ministry also provides advice to the Minister of Justice on miscarriages of justice, including the exercise of the royal prerogative of mercy and compensation for wrongful conviction and imprisonment.[9]

Sector leadership[edit]

The Ministry also provides leadership for the justice sector as a whole. As such it works with the New Zealand Police, the Department of Corrections and the Ministry of Social Development, the Law Commission and a number of other Crown entities.[10] In 2011, a Sector Leadership Board was established chaired by the Secretary for Justice and responsible for improving the performance of these agencies involved in the criminal justice system.[11]

Justice sector costs[edit]

The Ministry's departmental expenditure for 2012/13 was $0.566 billion and the non-departmental expenditure was $1.079 billion. Departmental expenditure is directly controlled by the Ministry and includes the cost of administering the courts and tribunals, the Legal Aid system, the Public Defence Service, collecting court fines and providing policy advice. Non-departmental costs are administered but not under direct control by the Ministry. They include Treaty of Waitangi Treaty Settlements, Judges' salaries and Legal Aid Payments.[12] However the justice sector as a whole, including police and Corrections, has an operating budget of $3.8 billion a year and employs around 22,000 people. Over the next five years an additional $1.8 billion will be spent on new capital.[13] Around 80% of Justice sector expenditure is spent on criminal justice.[14]

Court workload[edit]

The court system is struggling to cope with caseloads. In 2012, 135,000 criminal cases were dealt with by judges in the district courts. About 4500 went to a defended hearing (decided by a judge); another 1,400 cases were decided by jury with another 113 jury trials in the High Court.[15]

In July 2012, district courts had more than 63,000 active cases.[16] On top of outstanding criminal and civil cases, there are also about 430,000 people with outstanding fines. In October, 2012, the Herald on Sunday said the jury trial system was approaching "crisis point as defendants and victims waited more than three years for some cases to be heard". The largest volume of case are criminal summary cases in the district courts.[citation needed]

Justice secretary Andrew Bridgman agrees the current system is "unnecessarily complicated and expensive". In December 2012 he told Parliament's justice and electoral select committee that: "The justice system and, in particular, the court system is not focused on the people who use the system, is unnecessarily complicated, not accessible in modern day terms and largely depends on paper and physical attendance at the court, is not timely, is expensive and the increase in costs are not reflected in better outcomes".[17]

Changes were introduced in October 2012 which included the closure of some courts and a reduction in sitting times for others. There has also been an increase in the use of technology in courts, allowing for some traditional court services to be provided online and court appearances via audio-visual link for certain offenders.[18] One online change allowed disputes regarding infringement notices to be actioned by email instead of having to write letters and go to court. 99% of such applications were processed within 24 hours.[19] Former Tourism New Zealand boss George Hickton has been appointed as the deputy secretary of district courts and special jurisdictions and will be responsible for making the "old-fashioned" district courts more efficient. Justice Secretary Andrew Bridgman said the role was created to separate the management of the district courts from the Supreme Court and Court of Appeal.[20]

In July 2012, the Criminal Procedure Act comes into effect which has described as the biggest overhaul of the criminal justice system in 50 years.[21] One change it will introduce removes the need for juries at trials where the maximum term of imprisonment for the particular offence is less than two years.[22]

Jury service[edit]

In the lower North Island, 62,739 people were summoned to attend jury service in 2012. Nearly half (27,087) were excused while a further 9,334 were granted a deferral. The demographics of those excused left juries over-represented with beneficiaries and students. Dr Grant Morris, a senior law lecturer at Victoria University, says it is important that juries contain a 'cross-section of society' and that high numbers of people being excused could "undermine the justice system".[23]

See also[edit]

References[edit]

External links[edit]