Lawyers concerned at changes

KATHRYN KING
Last updated 09:20 13/12/2012

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An experienced Marton lawyer is unimpressed that changes to the court system will be implemented on a ''trust us'' basis, without prior testing.

Changes to the court systemnteannounced earlier this year were confirmed yesterday, meaning 10 senior positions in local district courts will go, and Feilding courthouse will remain shut.

Palmerston North's court will see 7.5 positions disestablished and 6.5 new positions created. One management position will not be replaced.

All 2.5 positions at Marton will be gone, and staff from Whanganui 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 in April next year.

Staff at Marton District Court said they were unable to talk to media and referred calls to the Ministry of Justice.
David Woodbridge, of Evans, Henderson and Woodbridge, said most of his firm's work was at the Marton District Court.

Filing documents urgently might become more difficult, he said.

He said the changes would affect the business in a way, particularly in respect of what the process would be if they needed to file documents urgently.

He felt the biggest problem for the public would be the loss of registry services.

A lot of people used the registry to find out what they needed to do, make applications, pay fines, and pick up documents, he said.

Even if documents were available to download online, many people going through the court system were not very literate, were ''fairly impoverished'' and had only a basic understanding of how things workdhed.

''We're a small town and anything closing down really riles us up, it riles me up. It's a community resource that's been taken away and people will find that life is not as easy as it was.

''I think it's a retrograde step and a bad thing to happen to a small town.

"I'm interested in how the new system is going to work: Don't just close everything down and say: 'Trust us, we're going to make it work'.''

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

He said some people could not drive and would have to rely on the minimal public transport available to get to hearings in Palmerston North.

''It makes it difficult for families and other people to come and support."

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

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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.''

- © Fairfax NZ News

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