Christchurch jury trials backlog sees defendants spend years behind bars

Some defendants are finding themselves behind bars for extended periods of time as the jury trial backlog in Christchurch continues. 

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More than 300 trials are yet to be heard in the Christchurch District Court, with those in the High Court being scheduled as far out as 2023. Source: 1 NEWS

There are 315 trials yet to be heard in the Christchurch District Court alone, with Christchurch High Court trial dates now being scheduled as far out as 2023. 

Christchurch criminal barrister Rupert Glover said it was “routine” for people to spend up to three years in custody as they wait for their trials. 

“It’s just not good enough. They are innocent until proven guilty,” Glover said. 

“People are losing faith in the system.” 

Nicola Hansen, president of the Canterbury Criminal Bar Association, said it was getting to a “crisis point”. 

“Justice delayed is justice denied. This affects complainants and victims as much as it affects the defendant,” Hansen said.

The delays have also been exacerbated by a four-month trial suspension during last year’s Covid-19 lockdowns. 

General view of Christchurch District Court Source: Getty

The murder trial of David Benbow has been delayed until 2023. He denies any part in the murder of his childhood friend Michael McGrath in 2017, whose body has never been found. 

It will mean the accused will be behind bars for more than three years before his case is heard.

Simon McGrath, Michael’s brother, said the delay was hugely disappointing.

He called the situation “ludicrous”. 

Glover and Hansen said more resources, judges and courtrooms were needed in Christchurch to fix the situation.

Ministry of Justice chief operating officer Carl Crafar told 1 NEWS it invested $50 million to speed up court proceedings, provide five new district court judges and 40 support staff. 

He said the Justice Ministry has spent a further $4 million to encourage the resolutions of issues without court involvement.