Closure loss to towns - lawyer

JIMMY ELLINGHAM
Last updated 12:00 28/02/2013

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The closure of small courts deprives towns such as Feilding of something special, says one of Manawatu's most experienced lawyers.

The Feilding District Court sat for the final time yesterday and about 25 people who have worked there gathered to reminisce over lunch.

Since late 2011 the town's court hearings have taken place in Palmerston North after the Feilding courthouse, built in 1909, was closed because it was deemed an earthquake risk.

Peter Coles, who has practised law in the region since 1974, told the gathering the closure had been on the cards for a while - probably since the "solicitors' office", an old tree on the front lawn where lawyers would talk to their clients, was cut down.

Gone would be the "unique identity" of smaller courts and the characters, such as registrar Clive Asplin, who has worked at the court for 38 years.

‘Every time we close one of these country courts we lose something . . . that's quite special," Mr Coles said.

His family links to the court go back even further - his grandfather practised law in Feilding for 50 years.

When Mr Coles started at Feilding court, a magistrate would hear a mixture of civil, family and criminal cases on any given sitting day.

Judge Les Atkins also fondly remembers Feilding court. It was the first place he practised, in 1976, and he later sat on the bench there.

"It was always a pleasant place to be in court.

"Clive Asplin, in particular, was remarkably good at providing lawyers with advice.

"He did more lawyering then we did," Judge Atkins told the Manawatu Standard.

"It's a sad thing to see the court go."

Judge Gregory Ross presided over the court's final sitting day and said there were some familiar faces in the lineup.

"That's an indication of the endemic and deeply embedded problems some families have in Feilding."

The office functions of the Feilding court will cease to exist tomorrow.

The town's Edwardian building was originally estimated to cost $300,000 to fix, but that was later ramped up to $1 million.

The closure of Feilding's court, one of four to shut around New Zealand, was announced last year.

The town's matters will now be heard in the Palmerston North District Court.

Mr Asplin spoke about Ministry of Justice services being computerised and linked that to a Maori proverb that translated as: "A voice may be heard, but a face needs to be seen."

The first sitting of the Feilding court was on June 24, 1909.

At the courts' opening the attorney-general Dr Findlay said: "A court of justice is more than just a building."

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COURTSIDE STORIES

Feilding registrar Clive Asplin was known for his banter at the registrar's court, where defendants often appeared for the first time. "How big were the plants?" he asked one man accused of growing cannabis at his final registrar's list last week.

"I was just curious whether he could grow tomatoes the same." The Feilding courthouse has seen some interesting cases over the years.

On July 16, 1919, Wilheim Flynn, licensee of the Endymion Hotel at Awahuri, was charged with supplying liquor to a "half-caste native". The defence argued the liquor had been given to a European taxi driver, which was allowed.

"The Magistrate said a principle was involved: Natives were not supposed to get liquor," the Feilding Star reported. Flynn was fined a hefty £10.

- Manawatu Standard

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