Tuesday, 2 October 2012

'E-Courts' Triumph of Penny Pinching over Justice?

Thinking of all my friends in the Ministry of Justice who work in the Courts of New Zealand today. They are being called to special meeting today to discuss 'modernising' how they work. Legal aid lawyers have been shafted, now these hardworking people are next. 

Over the past decade we have seen a seismic shift in our communities in regards to our historic rights and freedoms. Since "9/11" the right has used combatting terrorism as an excuse to roll back rights that have been deemed sacrosanct and hard earned for centuries. Now with the recession, 'belt tightening' is the latest excuse used by the right to further erode legal protections. First, accused people have lost in most cases their right to be represented by counsel of choice; then there have been changes to the Bail Act, whereby the right have sought to reverse the presumption of innocence, so an accused person will find it progressively harder to obtain bail, and now with fixed fees most lawyers are finding it increasingly difficult to represent clients on the parsimonious fees available on legal aid.  Sadly we are now losing legal skills and the independent defence bar as practitioners are progressively leaving defence work, or moving to an increasingly private practice, where the wealthy are the only ones who can obtain counsel of choice and detailed representation.

Sadly this trend is now arriving at the door of Justice. The move to 'e-courts' where judges sit remote from the people whose liberty interests are at stake, will see a real risk of the process becoming even more dehumanised as the actors become more detached from each other. We are rapidly becoming controlled by a system that knows the cost of everything but the value of nothing.

Courts overhaul announcement expected

Updated at 7:43 am today
The Government is about to outline plans for a major overhaul of the court system.
Court staff have been called to meetings this morning, following months of talk about modernising the way they work.
Courts Minister Chester Borrows has described the current paper-based system as old-fashioned.
Judges will move next year to a system called e-Bench, allowing them to manage criminal cases electronically.
Mr Borrows also wants people to be able to have their court matters dealt with by video link from home, or their lawyer's office, should they wish.
Labour says the changes are entirely driven by a desire to cut costs, rather than to improve services, and says it expects significant job losses as a result of replacing people with technology.