Closed court causes transport headache

SELINA POWELL
Last updated 05:00 07/02/2013

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A local advice service is fielding requests for money to get to court following the closure of the Upper Hutt District Court.

Citizens Advice Bureau co- ordinator Angela Hamilton said that several people had come to the bureau asking for money to get to district court in Lower Hutt.

The permanent closure of the Upper Hutt District Court was announced last October after it was closed at the end of 2011 for earthquake strengthening.

Since the court house closed its doors those due to appear in court and their supporters have had to travel to Lower Hutt.

Mrs Hamilton said that transport to court was one of the issues raised at a recent consultation meeting on the closure of the Upper Hutt court house.

Lynne Wyman, from the Upper Hutt Budget Advisory Service, had also advised people who had concerns about meeting the cost of travelling to court.

She said that a single person over 25 on an unemployment benefit would only receive about $235 each week for all their expenses.

Once accommodation, food and transport costs were accounted for, this budget left little leeway for extra petrol costs or a $9 return bus fare to Lower Hutt.

A Work and Income spokesperson said that it was unlikely that the cost of travelling to court would be paid for by WINZ.

Those attending court and their families usually had plenty of advance notice of their court date and would not qualify for a hardship payment, she said.

As well as transport concerns, residents have reported confusion about where to go for services previously provided by the court, such as justice of the peace services and fine payment. A sign outside the court house still lists the court closure as temporary despite the announcement of its permanent closure.

Although local justice of peace services are listed on the sign, no physical locations are listed for fine repayment.

When the Upper Hutt Leader contacted the two fine repayment phone numbers listed, a reporter was initially told a person should travel to Lower Hutt to pay fines.

Neither phone number listed is based in Upper Hutt.

A spokesperson for the Ministry of Justice said that the ministry was putting together information for the public that would explain the changes as well as highlighting ways that people could access most court services locally.

The ministry planned to run newspaper ads, start an 0800 information line and put new signage on the closed court house.

FREE LEGAL SERVICES IN UPPER HUTT

Upper Hutt City Library, justice of the peace, Thursday, 10 till 11am, first and third Thursday 6pm till 7pm; legal advice, Monday, 2pm till 3pm.

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Citizens Advice Bureau, Logan St, justice of the peace (by appointment), Friday, 9am till 12.30pm; legal advice, from 6pm Thursday. Justices of the peace addresses are listed in the yellow pages and at www.jpfed.org.nz.

Fines: Pay in person at post office or Westpac. By internet banking, with a credit card 0800 434 637 or at www.justice.govt.nz/fines.

- Fairfax Media

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