Court staff brace for news on jobs

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 10/12/2012

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Experienced court staff will this week find out if they still have a job as a radical overhaul of the justice system is expected to be confirmed.

In early October, the Ministry of Justice announced proposed changes to New Zealand's courts that would usher in greater reliance on electronic systems.

It is possible 68 senior court staff around the country could lose their jobs, with 7.5 fulltime roles at the Palmerston North courthouse on the chopping block.

Feilding's earthquake-prone courthouse is also slated to shut, meaning the two staff members there will lose their jobs, and Marton's courthouse will open only on hearing days.

On Wednesday, court staff will be told whether those proposals have been confirmed.

After a period of consultation, a ministry spokesman said it had received 420 internal submissions, and 40 "external" parties had written submissions.

The spokesman said no further comment would be made until this week's announcement, and he did not say how much of the feedback supported the changes.

Palmerston North law firm WinterWoods was one of the submitters, and lawyer Steve Winter said he had not heard back from the ministry.

"I'd be surprised if there were any changes as the result of consultation," he said.

New technology was expected to replace the court managers, team leaders and case-flow managers whose jobs are on the line.

"The sheer scale of this did surprise me, and the people that we're losing alarms me," Mr Winter said in October. "Their leadership and calming influence are vital to keep that place going."

Mr Winter worried about the changes being a done deal, especially as all feedback had to be given to the ministry by late October.

Lawyers have also expressed doubt at the rationale behind the changes - that crime is dropping.

The ministry has said the number of criminal summary, or less serious, cases has dropped 25 per cent in the past four years.

"I've been doing this job for 38 years and human behaviour hasn't changed that much," barrister Peter Coles said.

The ministry spokesman said the changes were to "deliver modern, accessible, people-centred justice services".

"This means moving from a system where people have to go to courthouses for most services, to one that has simpler processes and makes better use of technology, resources and infrastructure."

In the Palmerston North courthouse, two "frontline service delivery managers" will probably replace the 7.5 jobs on the block.

The earthquake-prone Feilding courthouse has been closed for the past year anyway, and its hearings have been held in Palmerston North.

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- Manawatu Standard

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