Speech at the Ministry of Justice Operations, Service and Delivery Leader’s Forum, Te Papa, Wellington

As Minister for Courts, I am very pleased to be here today and help to acknowledge the work of the Operations and Service Delivery team, within the Ministry of Justice.

Operational Service Delivery is a crucial part of the Ministry of Justice, without you the judiciary and the Government would not be able to deliver justice services for the people of Aotearoa.
Certainly, you and your staff are responsible for the delivery of most of the Ministry’s customer-facing, frontline services - the administration of the courts and tribunals, the provision of legal aid and the delivery of justice services by third-party providers for a start.

My Courts and Justice Private Secretary described to me the operational arm of the Ministry, like athletes at the Olympics, the flag bearers of the Ministry, who implement the strategies and policies, who have to troubleshoot on a daily basis, are loyal to the cause, who wish to serve their communities, who have a high level of integrity and who strive for excellence in how they go about their work.

Each of you are a vital connection with the general public, working closely with the judiciary and other sector partners. Your work is often unseen and unrecognised, but it is extremely important.

INTEGRITY OF THE COURTS

One of the Ministry of Justice’s enduring priorities –  and mine as well  –  is to maintain the integrity of the courts and tribunals, not just as places to access justice, but to ensure we are upholding the values of our nation and protecting the mana of people. I would like to especially thank all staff who have helped keep the Courts and our Tribunals running in recent years.

Looming large over this time was COVID-19, and the administration of the courts and tribunals was impacted, just like almost every part of society.

Thanks to your efforts, alongside those of the judiciary and all court participants, access to justice was able to continue throughout the COVID response levels.

The Ministry, judiciary and the legal profession have worked together to ensure the Courts adapted through each COVID-19 wave, which have enabled more court events to proceed and more cases to be resolved.

For example, in the District Court, during the first COVID-19 Alert Level 4 period only 32 percent of normal court events were able to be completed. During the Delta Alert Level 4 period this increased to 40 percent, and during the Omicron red setting this increased to above 90 percent.

The Government has responded to the pressures the courts have been under, as a result of COVID-19, by funding just over $76 million from recent Budgets to provide additional judicial resources.

Ministry of Justice officials are also working closely with the judiciary, the Heads of Bench and its justice sector partners on initiatives that are expected to help address the pressures being felt across a number of jurisdictions.

In a broad sense, the justice system contributes to wellbeing by helping to keep people safe, protecting their rights, helping to resolve conflict, and supporting victims of criminal behaviour.

Internationally, our system is highly regarded for its integrity.

At the same time, our justice system is rightly open to careful scrutiny from the media and general public.

This is something we should welcome as part of an open and democratic society.

CORONIAL RESOURCES

In recent times attention has been focused on the time it can take for coronial processes to be completed. I’ve been heartened to note some tangible progress in addressing these delays and also demystifying the coronial process.

Budget 2022 delivered a package of investment to improve the coronial system and reduce delays for grieving families and whānau. Operating funding of $28.5 million over four years and $1.6 million of capital funding aims to ensure families and whānau receive coroners’ findings sooner and reduce the coronial caseload.

The coronial process, by its very nature, can take time. It is designed to find out the facts about a death, provide resolution for families and produce findings that may help prevent future deaths.

However, undue delay can add to the grief and stress for families and whānau of loved ones who have passed.

I want to thank all OSD staff who are involved in this work.

This is an opportunity to express my thanks to the Ministry of Justice and all of you who do work for the Coronial court as we have developed a work-programme to address delays in the Coronial system.

CORONIAL VIDEO

Just last week a new video resource was launched to guide whānau through the first stages of the coronial process.

You made the video as part of a work stream focused on improving the experience from when a death occurs and is reported to the coroner, until the body (tūpāpaku) is returned to whānau.

The video is designed to support whānau when considering their options during the initial stages after a death, and help the coroner in identifying the values held by whānau which may need to be considered.

Alongside the video, a new factsheet and revised booklet are also available to help families understand the coronial process.

This is extremely valuable work which will help demystify the Coronial system for grieving families.

The Government is committed to reducing the time a case spends in the Coroner’s jurisdiction. This work includes the Coroners Amendment Bill and the Budget 2022 funding to help reduce the coronial caseload.

I am confident that the Coroners Amendment Bill will reduce the time it takes for certain types of cases to move through the coronial process, and free up Coroners’ time to work on reducing the number of active cases.

VICTIMS

The Government is also exploring ways to better support victims, within the criminal justice system.

This includes $45.7 million budgeted this year for a whole-of-Government support programme for victims of crime. For the first time, the justice system will be examined through the eyes of a victim and designed in a way that addresses their needs.

I am heartened by the work that is going on in this area, but I acknowledge that there is still a long road ahead.

COURT EXPERIENCE

I have also been pleased to see progress in improving the court experience of participants affected by family violence and sexual violence. The Government recently passed the Sexual Violence Legislation Act and it’s due to take full effect from December this year.

This will make changes to the parts of the court process that we know cause trauma in sexual violence cases. The new changes make sure that cases are based on relevant information rather than myths about sexual violence.

You are also delivering a wider programme underway to improve the experience of court participants affected by family violence and sexual violence. It includes establishing best practice processes in the criminal and family courts; foundational FVSV training for the court-related workforce; improved data and evidence gathering.

This includes implementation of the Sexual Violence Legislation Act 2021, expansion of practices from specialist courts and implementation of Te Ao Marama. You have just heard about Te Ao Mārama from Chief Judge Hemi Taumaunu, an inspirational kaupapa to improve the experience for all people who participate in the court system, including victims and whanau.

The Ministry is a member of Te Puna Aonui which brings together government agencies under Te Aorerekura - the national strategy to eliminate family violence and sexual violence - to deliver actions that will transform the FVSV system. When I attended this year’s Te Aorerekura Annual Hui as part of the Ministers panel, it strengthened our resolve that Family violence and sexual violence impacts all areas of society, and it is vital that we create a holistic system to prevent, and to respond.

With that in mind, a comprehensive FVSV Response Training Package is currently in development for the court-related workforce, with funding secured to deliver this package.

This will support you and your teams to be able to respond appropriately to people who have experienced family violence and sexual violence.

BUDGET 2022

I am pleased that the Court system received significant funding in Budget 2022. For example, there was a further investment of $59.5m over four years to fund the services that supported participation in the justice system. It will allow for growth in the use of critical specialist court services, from interpreters and communication assistance, to medical, cultural, psychiatric, and psychological reports together with various court-appointed lawyers.

Court security, who played such a critical role during the pandemic, also received a boost with an additional $22.8m over four years to provide increased staffing, support, training and supervision.

TE AU REKA

Budget 2022 also included funding to support the full roll-out of Te Au Reka – Caseflow Management – which I understand you heard about yesterday. The commitment to funding the implementation of Te Au Reka, will be transformative for court operations. Moving the court away from manually intensive processes to a more modernised and efficient, case management system.

By reducing unnecessary delays and improving access to information, everyone will experience less stress and disruption when dealing with the courts. And I have no doubt that includes you and your staff.

CPIP

You also heard about Criminal Process Improvement Programme (CPIP) yesterday, led by the Chief District Court Judge, a justice-sector-wide effort to improve access to justice by ensuring we have the best practice in court processes and reduce unnecessary delay. Over time, this will also reduce the amount of time defendants spend on remand.

CPIP received $11.1m across the Justice Sector over four years in Budget 2022.

As you know, the CPIP objectives are to:

  • reduce the average time (days) to disposal
  • reduce the number of events that do not proceed on the day
  • reduce the average number of events for a case from start to end, and
  • reduce the number of days the accused spends in custody waiting for an outcome.

TE AO MĀRAMA

As you heard just before I came to speak to you, in November 2020, the Chief District Court Judge, Heemi Taumaunu, announced a vision for a new model for the District Court - Te Ao Mārama which means ‘the world of light’, or moving from the dark to the enlightened world, and stems from a Te Ao Māori worldview.

The Government is on board and supports this transformational change, and as Minister for Courts, I am eager to see how it improves outcomes for our Māori and Pasifika communities in particular.

Budget 2022 supported Te Ao Mārama in the District Court with up to $47.5 million over four years.

The model will take the knowledge, skills and approaches learned from the existing specialist courts, so that the best practice elements are incorporated throughout the mainstream District Court.

It will be implemented in a spirit of partnership with iwi and local communities, with support from the Ministry of Justice and cross-sector agencies.

Most recently - in July- Judge Taumaunu, announced the Kaitāia District Court as the next location to implement the Te Ao Mārama model. The establishment of Te Ao Mārama model is also currently underway in Gisborne and Hamilton. It’s great see Te Ao Mārama rolling out where it can affect real change in the District Courts.

All of these elements I have mentioned will combine to boost the integrity of our court system, both physically and systemically.

COURT UPGRADES

I want to acknowledge that the physical courts many of you work in, especially across Auckland, are not up to the best standard.

The Ministry of Justice owns or leases a substantial property portfolio across the country, much of which are in a poor or deteriorating condition.

Unfortunately, there are no quick fixes when it comes to buildings, however the restoration and modernisation of courtrooms is a priority for the Ministry of Justice, for example, the Ministry is;

  • expanding capacity at Manukau to provide several additional courtrooms by late 2024
  • undertaking replacement and upgrade projects at Auckland District Court
  • planning for major redevelopments at Waitakere and Papakura
  • Undertaking weathertightness work at North Shore District Court due for completion by mid 2023
  • planning a reconfiguration of the public counters to separate the criminal and family counters and to give victims a dedicated area, where possible.

I am keeping a close eye on the programme, having visited Waitakere and Papakura District Courts recently I have seen the state they are in first-hand. Rest assured, it is a priority.

INNOVATIVE COURTHOUSES

The Government is investing in improving our property portfolio, both to remediate issues such as health and security and to undertake new innovative approaches.

We are taking the opportunity to re-design court environments through our Innovative Courthouse programme, to better suit the needs of our communities, partner with iwi and integrate with the broader justice sector.

Two key projects under this programme are, new courthouses for Tauranga and Whanganui.

This involves working closely with iwi in the designing and planning of new, advanced courthouses.

Ministry/Iwi partnership will be a feature of all new courthouse and major redevelopment projects.

For courthouses that require significant upgrades, there is an opportunity to move away from traditional courthouse designs and invest in new approaches to delivering justice services.

Innovative Courthouses are buildings that are aimed at better meeting the needs of all participants in a more cohesive environment that supports broader outcomes.

They will be co-designed with significant input from the judiciary, iwi and hapu and local communities and will include input from victims, justice and social sector agencies, as well as, people who have lived experience in our justice system.

I want to thank everyone who is involved in progressing these projects.

They will take some time to come to fruition, but it will be well worth it.

I recently attended the opening of the Māori Land Court in Whangārei, and this work showed just what a difference brilliant design can make to a court building and the people that work in and visit it.

It is steeped in tradition, yet also sitting confidently in the 21st century. There was a tangible sense of connection, and of calmness.

It’s a very suitable setting for Māori Land Court participants to both explore the past and reach out to the future. And an inspirational place for you and your staff to work in.

Overall, I believe that you can reflect on a very successful and busy period at the Ministry of Justice, a time during which your work has been key to a raft of positive changes for all people who work in and come into contact with the justice system.

The foundations have been laid for a very exciting few years of work ahead.

Again, I want to thank you and your staff for all your hard work over the year but particularly over the Covid period were despite the restrictions you were able to continue to provide important Justice Services to all of Aotearoa New Zealand.

Heading into xmas, I wish you and your families a safe and well earned break.

Ngā mihi nui; Kia ora rawa atu…