News Item

November 2017

New Research Released - Wheels of Justice: Understanding the Pace of Civil High Court Cases

In a New Zealand first, a team of researchers from the University of Otago Legal Issues Centre have investigated the length of High Court civil cases. The goal of this research was to examine if, and where, delays occurred, as well as to see what could be done about them. Their findings have just been released in a report entitled “Wheels of Justice: Understanding the Pace of Civil High Court Cases”.

The research, co-funded by the New Zealand Law Foundation, included a quantitative analysis of Ministry of Justice data, analysis of physical court files, and interviews with lawyers, judges, court staff and litigants. Lead author and project manager Dr Bridgette Toy-Cronin said there was “a common perception that there is widespread delay in our courts”.

An important finding of the study was that overall length of a case does not tell the full picture. Dr Toy-Cronin says “You have to look much deeper to see what is really happening. We have to be more sophisticated in thinking about what we want from the justice system. Speed is one important goal but so is fairness and justice and keeping down cost.”

The researchers recommended that potential solutions to address various causes of delay include earlier identification of issues in dispute; greater inclusion of litigants earlier in the process; improving the timing and methods of eliciting witness evidence; considering judicial specialisation; protecting judgment-writing time; and harnessing the benefits of modern technology.

Another key area for further research is initiatives to lower or better plan the cost of legal representation, as legal expenses have a close but complex relationship with the pace of litigation.

Dr Toy-Cronin says there is also an urgent need to improve data about who uses our courts, whether or not they are represented, and how their cases proceed.

Read the full report

The Law Foundation has provided $126,108 funding for this project.