‘Crusher’ is leaning on the judges
Justice Minister Judith ‘‘Crusher’’ Collins is putting heat under tardy judges who are taking too long to finish their homework – releasing judgments on cases they have heard.
She’s right. You only need to glance at court news to know that.
It’s not weeks of waiting – in some cases it’s months . . . Over recent years that old adage ‘‘Justice delayed is justice denied’’ seems to have become a way of life in the law industry.
Her ‘‘please explain’’ is part of a major overhaul on how the court systems work – and don’t work.
Included are the High Court, the Employment, Environment, Maori Land Courts, the district courts, Court of Appeal and the Supreme Court.
She wants all of them to come up with a time schedule of what they think would be a reasonable time lag between hearings and release of a judgment.
She has convinced Cabinet colleagues that the topic needs a strong arm approach.
New law will force chief judges to set protocols on time taken to get a verdict, be prepared to give a running report on progress – ‘‘ a headsup’’ in a cliche of the moment.
Having promised that no judges will necessarily be named and/or shamed, she did trot out one name – the Employment Court Chief Judge Graeme Colgan. One of his case judgments took two years from hearing to judgment and two others took 20 months.
By anyone’s judgment, that’s ridiculous.
Judge Judith should also run a rule over the nation’s coroners. Time lags in their courts often run into many months – even years.
The notorious Kahui case set an unwanted record.
The twins were killed in 2006. It took the police years to mount a case against their father. And it took 10 minutes for the jury to produce a verdict of ‘‘not guilty’’.
It took six years after their deaths for the issue to move to the Coroners’ Court where the coroner took months to report – moving outside his judicial rules of appointment in an unwise judgment which clearly blamed the twins’ father for their death.
I pointed out that the coroner’s judgment at the time – apparently toned down from a first draft – breached the act which specifies that coroners shouldn’t raise the issue of guilt. But no action was taken.
Coroners’ cases take more than 400 days to complete on average and more than 700 days if coroners have to wait for other investigation to be completed.
‘‘I have seen first-hand how the coronial process can affect families already grieving over the unexpected death of a family member,’’ minister Chester Borrows said announcing likely changes. ‘‘Improving the process will make a real difference for these families and help them move forward with their lives.’’
He should also take this opportunity to get through to coroners what they should and should not do and say, quoting the damaging Kahui hearing as being contrary to the law. (Memo Chester: Check section 57 of the Coroners’ Act, ‘‘not to determine civil, criminal, or disciplinary liability’’.)
But the snail-pace movement isn’t limited to the courts.
A report on a near miss on rail lines tells how a train was stopped when a computer reading showed it just short of the entrance to a tunnel with a small rail maintenance vehicle approaching on the same stretch of single track.
The assessment of what needed doing to avoid a dangerous even fatal incident was released last week – three years after the investigation began.
Aviation experts barely get off the ground – even out of the hangar – taking months over their ‘‘occurrences.’’
Examples: Latest: An Air New Zealand flight to Canada with 379 passengers plus cockpit and cabin staff was later found to be carrying a dangerous chemical canister for the RNZAF – ‘‘seriously endangering’’ everyone on board.
The date: 2009. The incident reports: A Civil Aviation Authority interim finding in 2012 and its ‘‘final factual’’ report released last week!
A Fletcher plane, dangerously modified from an agricultural aircraft into a parachute-drop carrier three months before, crashed during takeoff from Fox Glacier, killing all nine aboard.
The date: September 4, 2010. Crash report: May 9, 2012.
An Air New Zealand 747 was on its approach to land at San Francisco when the crew of another aircraft warned that flames were coming from its number four engine.
The fire was not detected on the New Zealand flight deck. The jet landed safely.
The date: May 2011. report: September 5, 2013.
A mid-air collision of two Cessnas killed a young flight instructor and her student over Feilding Airport.
Date: July 26, 2010. Crash report: March 23, 2013.
A Piper Navajo Chieftain landed at Nelson with its nose wheel jammed and half extended.
The aircraft, with two pilots aboard and no passengers, was ‘‘substantially damaged’’.
Date: May 11, 2011. Crash report: September 5, 2013.
Talk about slow moving. If you have the time, take a look at those too, Judith. In the mailbag: ‘‘Mr Brown is very fortunate that his children are standing by him but their appeal (which I’m surprised he allowed to be published) to ignore his infidelity and let him get on with being mayor misses the point.
‘‘Like many others, I’m not con-
Crash cerned with the shabbiness of his personal life but the question of his integrity does bother me.
‘‘As Dick Quax reminded us, this is not the first time he’s been caught out – the other time involved a council credit card.
‘‘How can he talk to the youth of the city or any groups where he is supposed to be representing us, the citizens of Auckland, with everyone knowing he’s been dishonest – not just with his family but to the voters who supported him?
‘‘How many of them would have voted for him if they had known about – not a love affair – but a tawdry sexual liaison?
‘‘I don’t feel happy knowing that a man I don’t trust and one who seems lacking in integrity, should be running my city and have such a say over my life.
‘‘I simply don’t trust his judgment.
‘‘I thought it was bad enough, wooing his voters in South Auckland with a $20 million extravaganza called a white water rafting centre – but how many of those voters would have voted for him if they had known what they know this week?
‘‘I don’t feel good about the tackiness of all this – it means that the mayor’s office cannot be respected – it’s become disreputable instead.’’ – Name provided