Capital’s courts to pilot computerised jury trials

Wellington's district and high courts will pilot a new computerised system for managing criminal jury trials at the end of this month. Following the four-week trial the system will be rolled out to other courts. It is expected to be in all 23 jury trial courts by the end of September.

Wellington’s district and high courts will pilot a new computerised system for managing criminal jury trials at the end of this month.

Following the four-week trial the system will be rolled out to other courts. It is expected to be in all 23 jury trial courts by the end of September.

Project manager Melissa Keasey says that while all the information on individual cases (such as the parties involved, the charges laid and the plea entered) is kept in a file now, often it is in multiple files, as cases move between the courts.

“With this, it will all be in a single electronic file. It will be a lot easier to access information and a lot less chance of lost files.”

Project director Philip Pigou says the system will also provide management information on the cases before the courts so they can assess how they are running against time-lines.

Keasey says the new system will help courts to manage the load more efficiently.

“They will know what’s on their books. It will be easily accessed and up to date.”

The new system will also allow for automating some of the currently manual systems, such as the production of warrants and court orders.

The pilot follows the introduction of a new computerised system of selecting and managing jurors which was piloted in Wellington earlier this year, and then rolled out to New Zealand’s seven largest courts.

Before the new system came into place the entire process of getting jurors was a manual one, including typing out the names and addresses of potential jurors, drawing numbers out of a box corresponding to potential jurors’ names, and keeping a record of excusals.

It was anticipated the new system would eliminate some of the more tedious time-consuming and repetitive processes, increase the certainty of attendance, reduce costs and ensure jury lists are more up to date to minimise repeat summoning.

Pigou says it’s too early to judge the actual benefits yet, as the system only started a month ago. However, anecdotal evidence is that it has resulted in significant timesaving benefits in summoning the jury.

“In the past it has been quite time consuming in terms of getting the papers ready and enveloping them and sending them out and also payment of jurors, especially interfacing with the financial management information system.”

Pigou says there were a couple of very minor teething problems, but they had been rectified. There were also some minor enhancements to the system suggested by the users (such as getting the system to create a letter confirming a juror has been excused from a panel).

The system operates in the high and district courts in Auckland, Wellington, Christchurch and Hamilton and it’s hoped it will eventually operate in all 23 jury courts. However, Pigou says that first certain aspects of the Juries Act need to be changed and that could be up to a year away.

“The other issue is a financial one. We’re just making sure the cost benefits will be identified and achieved.”

The two next courts to get the system will be Rotorua and Otahuhu.

Both the jury management and the jury trial management systems use a GUI, built using PowerBuilder. They have an Oracle7.3 database running on an NT server.

The jury trial system will run over a WAN, while the jury management system runs locally in each court.

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