Lawyers' rooms behind schedule

Last updated 12:00 17/04/2014

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Upgrades designed to keep conversations between Palmerston North criminal lawyers and their clients safe and confidential are nearly half a year behind schedule.

Construction was supposed to be completed by now but resource consent has not yet been granted.

Lawyers were promised a new room to meet arrested clients at the Palmerston North Courthouse, after they lost the ability to nip into the court's cells to talk to clients.

They were banned from doing that after a lawyer was assaulted while with a client in an interview room with no security features, a lawyer broke up a fight between two prisoners, and a prisoner stripped off his clothes and smeared himself with his own faeces in an area lawyers previously accessed.

A temporary room was set up for lawyers and clients to discuss legal issues, but there were concerns the room was not soundproof.

The region's members of the Criminal Bar Association had voiced concerns about the room, and at one point threatened to boycott it, but lawyers have been using it while waiting for a permanent solution.

Issues around the room have once again surfaced, after a lawyer was allegedly assaulted while meeting a client in it on Saturday.

The Ministry of Justice previously said construction of new interviewing rooms would be completed early this month, but ministry spokesman Matt Torbit told the Manawatu Standard yesterday the project was running behind schedule.

"When we began this project we hoped to have the interview rooms completed earlier, but it has taken longer than first planned to consult with stakeholders and subsequently come up with a suitable design."

Design work had been completed for two new interview rooms and consent papers had been lodged with the city council.

A tender was out for the project, closing on May 1.

Construction was expected to take three months, with building starting mid-May if contractors were available.

Torbit said he was aware of the "security incident" on Saturday in the temporary interview room.

Three police officers assisted, the man was charged with assault, and court staff offered support to the lawyer.

New protocols had been issued to lawyers to avoid future incidents.

The man charged with assaulting the lawyer is in custody and scheduled to appear in court later this month.

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- Manawatu Standard

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