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Community groups cope with court merger

Last updated 10:20 05/12/2012

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Upper Hutt Leader

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Upper Hutt community groups are working together to fill gaps caused by the merger of the Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt District Courts but more changes are expected, a law group says.

Community Law, based in Lower Hutt, is liaising with groups in the Hutt Valley to tell them of expected changes ahead of the merger of the Upper Hutt and Lower Hutt District Courts early next year.

In October, the Ministry of Justice confirmed that the Upper Hutt District Court and its services would be closed.

Services were moved to Lower Hutt when the Upper Hutt court was temporarily closed because of earthquake risks. The merger has been announced since.

Community Law Hutt Valley's Nadine Warbrick said local organisations will absorb court services such as witnessing documents, assisting with application forms and providing legal information.

However, the changes would have an impact on the community.

"This places a huge stress on the Upper Hutt community," she said.

"In addition, the court closure seriously limits access to justice, by removing resources and not replacing them with an adequate local alternative."

She said there were more changes likely to come, including a call centre with an 0800 number for initial information related to hearings.

There were also plans for renovations to the Lower Hutt District Court, including increased security, and changes to the entry and exit for victims and witnesses, she says.

Community Law was concerned at the gap in court services no longer provided at the doorstep of Upper Hutt residents, she said.

Those on the benefit struggled to find extra money to travel to and from court for hearings.

Some defendants were not showing up for appearances which caused adjournment and in some instances, warrants for arrest were issued.

Meanwhile, police were not concerned about the impact on police resources of the court merger, Hutt Valley area commander Inspector Mike Hill said.

"Overnight prisoners are now taken down to Lower Hutt," he said.

It was a change they had implemented from November 2011 and it freed a staff member up who could remain on the street.

The focus needed to remain on reducing the crime rate, not the number of courts, he said.

Upper Hutt lawyers were not receiving the same service as they used to by not being able to liaise directly with Upper Hutt court staff face to face.

Community Law was liaising closely with police, the Citizens Advice Bureau, local lawyers and other interested parties.

Community Law offers free legal services including giving information on legal rights and issues, providing confidential legal advice and certifying and witnessing of documents.

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- Upper Hutt Leader

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