Move to ease judges' loads

Southern  judges will have their caseloads lightened thanks to the introduction of new judicial officers.

Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue confirmed two community magistrates (CMs) would begin sitting around the region from the start of next month.

The magistrates have the power to deal with more serious matters than justices of the peace and their introduction is designed to free up district court judges to deal with more complex cases.

Judge Doogue said CMs Simon Heale and Sally O'Brien - both of Christchurch - would work in the lower South Island.

Their duties will begin in Dunedin and Invercargill District Courts about three times a month.

They will also sit in Queenstown about one day a month and eventually be phased into the Timaru, Greymouth and Ashburton courts.

The move was welcomed by Dunedin barrister Anne Stevens QC.

"Anything that assists defendants to be dealt with more promptly has to be a good thing,'' she said.

"It accords with natural justice.''

That view was echoed by New Zealand Law Society Otago branch president John Farrow.

CMs dealing with "bread-and-butter'' cases would free up valuable judicial time, he said.

There are now 18 magistrates hearing cases in courts around the country.

They worked mostly in the busy list courts, Judge Doogue said, dealing with sentencing of offenders who have pleaded guilty on the day, hearing opposed bail applications and dealing with administrative matters.

CMs can sentence people on offences punishable by up to three months' imprisonment (although they cannot impose imprisonment) and may preside over trials for offences carrying a maximum penalty of a fine up to $40,000.

"Community magistrates have proved their worth in the district court and expanding their geographical coverage provides more flexibility for assigning judges into more complex or high-demand areas throughout New Zealand,'' Judge Doogue said.


Community magistrates

  • 18 sitting around the country.
  • Start in Dunedin District Court on May 3.
  • Appointed by Governor-General on advice from Minister of Justice.
  • Paid a maximum of $455 a day.
  • Must vacate position at age 70.
  • Can sentence and hear trials for low-level matters.
  • Cannot sentence offenders to imprisonment.




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