Well, the Crown and the courts are winding down for their annual extended break. However, forensic scientists in the independent sector don’t take a holiday!
This is the perfect time of year for lawyers to start preparing well in advance for next year’s trials, particularly given the long time that NZ Legal Services is taking to approve funding. So long in fact that several trials have had to be postponed because Legal Services funding has been granted only a week before the trial was due to start – given that the Defence has to serve any experts’ reports on which it is going to rely at least two weeks before the trial date, the Defence has been in breach of that requirement before the scientist has even opened the casefile.
An example is a case where the Legal Aid application was put in for our work on 1 October and we were advised of funding being approved on 26 November: 8 weeks. The barrister initially advised the court that an expert opinion would be available around 22 October. The hearing date has now been put off (again). Had funding been approved even within two weeks of the request, the hearing could have been done and dusted by now. Yet here we are, 3 weeks out from Christmas and I’ll be amazed if this case is heard before February.
I totally understand that the spending of public money has to be checked carefully before agreement is given to it being spent but there is a not insignificant cost (of tax payers money) associated with lawyers having to return to court several times to have matters adjourned because of the delays caused by Legal Services. Add into that any lost court time because matters have to be put off.
It seems the delays have come about as the result of a new computer system (one of our cases was apparently deleted from the system, had to be added manually, which resulted in our July invoice being paid at the end of November). It makes it very hard to run a business.
Legal Services in NZ used to be really quick – it must be very stressful to be working at Legal Services these days. Let’s hope that after a bit of Christmas cheer and a holiday, it will all be back to normal! Merry Christmas!!