Earthquake-risk Upper Hutt District Court will be closed permanently as part of sweeping changes to the court system announced today.
About 100 jobs will be lost due court closures and restructuring which includes the closure of Upper Hutt, Feilding, Warkworth and Whataroa courts.
Nine more local courts will only be used for hearings, instead of being open five days a week.
It is proposed Lower Hutt court will be renamed Hutt District Court. Upper Hutt had the equivalent of seven full time staff who are being consulted about their future.
Courts minister Chester Borrows said both Upper Hutt and Feilding were near larger courts - Lower Hutt and Palmerston North respectively - where their work was already being successfully managed. The larger courts also had extra services such as greater security and specialised services.
"I'm glad we can now give certainty for the Upper Hutt and Feilding communities. This decision reflects the fact that since these courthouses were closed last year the interim arrangements have worked very well," Mr Borrows said.
The Justice Ministry says it will be talking to those affected about how the changes will work. It is also to consult with staff.
The changes are expected to take effect early next year, but are still subject to consultation.
The Public Service Association says the changes were a bombshell.
Staff were reeling at the scale of what is proposed around the country which would see several tiers of management disappear, PSA national secretary Richard Wagstaff said.
"The government may like to say that this proposal will lead to a modern, accessible and people-centred justice service, but in reality the result will be a poorer service especially for rural communities," he said.
The Law Society says courthouses in provincial centres serve many purposes.
"These include the filing of proceedings, witnessing and swearing of official documents, marriage and civil union services, debt recovery and other civil proceedings," its courthouse spokesman Iain Hutcheson said.
It wanted to see new ways of operating, which Mr Borrows was promising would improve services, in place and proven to deliver, before any closures occured.
Mr Hutcheson said any proposals to close courthouses also needed to consider that people involved in family and criminal proceedings often lacked financial stability, could have difficulty travelling to another centre and often needed family support when they appeared.
The Criminal Procedure Act, which comes into effect on 1 July 2013, is aimed at simplifying court procedures and is expected to reduce the number of events by about 4 per cent.
Next July the courts are due to move towards online operations.
Audio-visual links between court and prison and video conferencing technology between courts and court users, such as lawyers, mean people can "appear" in court without travelling.
The ministry says it needs to move away from investment in buildings that are used infrequently.
- © Fairfax NZ News
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