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Status Hearings Evaluation: A New Zealand Study of Pre-Trial Hearings in Criminal Cases

NCJ Number
Wendy Searle; Tania Slater; Trish Knaggs; Janet November; Christopher Clark
Date Published
July 2004
203 pages
This report contains an analysis of a 2 year study in which researchers listened to approximately 100 status hearings at each 5 district courts in New Zealand, interviewed key participants and search court files in order to accurately describe the main features of the operations and to know what defendants and complainants, judges, defense counsel, and others thought regarding status hearing procedures and their effectiveness in achieving their objectives.
Introduced in 1995 in New Zealand as a type of pre-trial conference, status hearings were intended to avoid the inefficiencies created by last minute cancellations of trials either because defendants plead guilty or because prosecutions were withdrawn on the day set for a hearing. They were designed to improve the criminal justice system. However, status hearings have been criticized for their procedures, as well as mixed views on their effectiveness in achieving their objectives. This report presents the findings of an evaluation of status hearings (first piloted in the Auckland District Court in 1995) undertaken by the Ministry of Justice and the Law Commission in 2002-2003. Quantitative and qualitative methods were used to collect information about status hearings in five district courts throughout New Zealand. Interviews were held with a range of informants including complainants, defendants, lawyers, judges, police, prosecutors, victim advisors, probation officers, and court staff, as well as information collected from official recordings of status hearings held in 2001 and from court files. The report is divided into five major sections: operation of status hearings, defendants’ experiences of status hearings, complainants’ experiences of status hearings, aims and practice of status hearings (views of key informants), and Auckland District Court callovers. Despite some disadvantages identified, many participants saw status hearings as useful in producing earlier, less stressful and better resolutions to some cases and consequently reducing the numbers of defended hearings. Additional attention needs to be given to guidelines or statutory provisions, to sentence indications, to pre-status hearings plea and charge discussions, to the roles of the various participants, and to access to justice and rights issues for complainants and defendants. Tables, glossary, and appendices 1-2


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