District Court changes confirmed

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 13:32 12/12/2012

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An experienced Manawatu barrister is unimpressed with District Court changes, saying it is a "back-and-forth" burden for many.

Changes to the District Court system announced earlier this year have been confirmed, meaning 10 senior positions in local district courts will go, and Feilding District Court will remain shut.

Palmerston North District Court will see 7.5 positions disestablished and 6.5 new positions created. One management position will not be replaced.

All 2.5 staff at Marton District Court will see their jobs disestablished, and staff from the Whanganui District Court will be expected to travel to Marton on hearing days.

Two staff from the Feilding District Court, who have been working out of Palmerston North's courthouse, will lose their jobs and not be replaced as the court's list is taken over by Palmerston North staff.

The changes will take effect early next year.

Manawatu barrister Peter Coles, who first practised at Feilding court in 1974 or 1975, was unimpressed with the closure.

"There are a lot of people in the community for whom getting to Palmerston North within the timetabling set by the court. It's a financial hardship."

Mr Coles said some people couldn't drive and would have to rely on the minimal public transport to get to hearings in Palmerston North.

"It makes it difficult for families and other people to come and support. It would be less of a burden if people came along to court and there was dealt with on the day. But you come back and forth."

Minister of Courts Chester Borrows said the decision to proceed followed discussions between the Ministry of Justice, local police, corrections staff, lawyers and other stakeholders on how the changes will work best for communities.

The Ministry had also consulted with staff affected by the changes.

"We have a plan to modernise courts though greater use of technology, better processes and more efficient use of infrastructure. The key shift is to use courthouses for hearings and to deliver other services in more modern ways, such as via phone, internet or video-conference. 

"With courtrooms in many small District Courts sitting empty three or four days a week, moving nine courts to hearing-only courts presents an effective way to ensure local hearings are still available in communities where they are needed," said Mr Borrows.

The hearing-only courts will be Dargaville, Waihi, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Opotiki, Marton, Waipukurau, Oamaru and Balclutha.

The four courts to be disestablished are Feilding and Upper Hutt, which have been closed since late last year because of earthquake risk, and Warkworth and Whataroa.   

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"These changes are possible due to the success this Government has had in reducing crime rates, and will help us deliver modern court services which are focused on delivering a just result to New Zealanders," he said.

- Manawatu Standard

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