The permanent closure of Upper Hutt's quake-vulnerable courthouse will affect more than the criminals, locals say.
Mayor Wayne Guppy said family and civil court cases and disputes tribunal hearings were held in the building, court papers were filed, and documents such as passports and identity papers were certified as true.
Some of the services are available online but many people did not operate like that, he said.
The MP for Rimutaka, Labour's Chris Hipkins, said the closure was a further hollowing-out of public services in Upper Hutt.
He did not believe the Justice Ministry had made a genuine effort to reopen the courthouse after it and the Feilding courthouse were closed last November because they were deemed at risk in an earthquake.
The closures were made permanent yesterday. A "reconstituted" Hutt District Court at Lower Hutt is the result. Feilding cases move to Palmerston North. Six fulltime and two part-time jobs are gone at Upper Hutt, with four new jobs created at Lower Hutt. In Feilding, two jobs are gone.
Mr Guppy said he was disappointed and angry the council's suggestions for temporary court premises had fallen on deaf ears.
He suspected the ministry used earthquake risk to justify its decision to close the court.
Earlier this year Courts Minister Chester Borrows had told him the court's fate was not predetermined and the council would be kept fully informed.
"What followed was a multitude of empty promises and excuses from district court officials," a council statement said.
"There had been no talk about closing it, then suddenly I get told this morning that they are," Mr Guppy said. "Every time we made a suggestion, they found another problem. They shouldn't use the earthquake risk as an excuse."
The closure would have flow-on effects in job losses, loss of services, and the impact on people who had to go to court, including lawyers.
Upper Hutt lawyer Miriam Menzies, whose office is next to the courthouse, said the court was a hub for the community.
Young people had been saying they could not afford to travel to Lower Hutt and, if a warrant was issued for their arrest, they would at least get a ride from police.
Many people did not have the computer skills or wherewithal to use the online services suggested, so they were denied access to justice, Ms Menzies said. The problems were compounded for those with literacy problems and English as a second language.
Upper Hutt District Court:
49 years old.
Main structural weakness was inadequate connections between the outside concrete walls and the timber roof.
An early engineers' report said it was a moderate risk to occupants.
Estimates to fix it have varied from $200,000 to $1 million, but most recently sit at about $550,000.
Feilding District Court:
102 years old.
The unreinforced brick walls had a dubious connection to the roof. An early engineer's report said it was a "significant" risk to occupants.
First estimated to cost $300,000 to fix but now thought to be $1m.
The Justice Ministry says the repair estimates were "ballpark" figures and recent experience with Masterton District Court suggested the cost may be much higher.
Masterton's strengthening was initially estimated to cost $300,000 but the true cost is $3.5m.
Related story: Plan to close courts 'heavy-handed'
- © Fairfax NZ News
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