Manawatu Standard

Judge appointmen­ts may ease military court delays

- Maxine Jacobs

Bolstering the ranks of New Zealand’s court martial judges may hasten the hand of military justice and save money.

Nine new judges are to join the Court Martial of New Zealand panel after two of the court’s three judges retired or moved to new roles.

One of the main reasons the court was made permanent in 2007 was the belief military members would be moved through the justice process faster in an independen­t court.

However, many soldiers, sailors and airmen have still had long waits for their cases to be heard.

Chief Judge Kevin Riordan has spoken about the problem many times when sentencing soldiers at Linton Military Camp, often reducing sentences due to unreasonab­le delays.

During the sentencing of corporals Grayson Kingsley Wright and Nicholas Paul Davenport for drug offences in March, Riordan said the more than twoyear wait endured ahead of their trial was excessive and unacceptab­le.

‘‘Had it gone on much longer it might have invited grounds for a stay of proceeding.

‘‘The Duke of Wellington said that no soldier should be required to go into battle with a charge hanging over his head, and although you’ve not had to go into battle I think that the principle involved is still applicable here.’’

These delays are also a cost to the public as defendants maintain their salaries as they await proceeding­s.

For the more than two years from the initial investigat­ions to the outcome of their trials, Davenport and Wright’s combined income was more than $278,000.

This is on top of the half pay they received while serving sentences at Burnham Military Camp’s prison – Davenport 13 months and Wright 14 months. They received 25 per cent reductions to their sentences due to the delay.

A Defence Force spokeswoma­n said the military did not hold informatio­n to calculate the cost of court martial prosecutio­ns.

It took about two months for charges to be laid by the director of military prosecutio­ns, and other issues could put the brakes on proceeding­s, in addition to the availabili­ty of judges.

It was hoped the additional judge appointmen­ts would allow for multiple trials to be held at the same time.

However, court registrar Alec Shariff said trial delays were due to the length of time it took for charges to be laid before the court.

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