by Chris Tobin
Community magistrates began sitting in the Timaru District Court on May 8 this year to free up the duties of district court judges and cut court waiting times.
“They are part-time judicial officers recruited for their diverse range of skills, experience and perspectives,” Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said.
“They work mostly in the busy list courts, dealing with sentencing of offenders who have pleaded guilty on the day and hearing opposed bail applications.
“They deal with administrative matters such as taking pleas and remanding defendants for probation, forensic or restorative justice reports, as well as voluntary alcohol, drug or rehabilitative programmes.”
Two new Christchurch-based community magistrates, Simon Heale and Sally O’Brien, have been appointed and either one of them will sit in Timaru about twice a month. Both were sworn in late last year.
“Community magistrates have become important to the effective and timely administration of justice,” Judge Doogue said.
“They 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.”
Community Magistrates were first appointed in 1998 and now number 18.
They extended into the South Island three years ago on a pilot basis, and the two permanent positions in Christchurch were established last November.
“They began sitting in the Dunedin and Invercargill District Courts in early May and are being deployed around other South Island district courts from time to time,” Judge Doogue said.
Other centres involved are the Queenstown, Greymouth and Ashburton district courts. Nelson and Blenheim are served by a Wellington-based community magistrate.