The wait time for court trials in the Queenstown District Court has more than doubled in the last three years, leading some defendants to plead guilty even if they believe they are innocent.
The trend was unearthed by the Otago Daily Times
which said that data reveal the average waiting time for judge-alone trial in the resort town was more than nine months last year.
This is compared to an average of four months in 2013 and a national average increase of only 10% in district court waiting times for the same period.
The publication said that the data already includes wait times for defendants who have pleaded guilty, which considerably shortens intervals between trials.
Culling these statistics from the data would show that most defendants are waiting more than a year for their day in court.
According to the Otago Daily Times
, the trend echoes a concern Queenstown barrister Liam Collins expressed in June that many defendants, even if they believe they are innocent, are choosing to plead guilty because of the longer wait.
The increasing wait times also increase threats to fair trials which includes questions about the testimony of witnesses whose memories may not be as reliable when trials are conducted long after a crime.
"There has to be something done so people aren’t left effectively to pleading guilty to avoid a delay,” Collins said.
He added that the area’s booming population and tourism contribute to the increase in wait times.
The Ministry of Justice could help decrease the backlog of cases by having a full-time judge assigned to the Queenstown and Alexandra courts which do not have resident judges but are served by visiting circuit judges.