Court users need personal touch, ministry told

MARTY SHARPE
Last updated 05:00 25/10/2012

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The $50 million in savings expected to be made by cutting senior court staff is "infinitesimal" compared with the likely loss of institutional knowledge, a leading law expert says.

Professor Mark Henaghan, dean of the law faculty at Otago University, said the Justice Ministry's proposal to cut 68 court management positions was shortsighted.

Staff have until Wednesday next week to submit feedback. The ministry has said the cuts, announced to staff earlier this month, would result in a saving of $50m over 10 years.

Professor Henaghan said dealing with people face to face was vital for users of the courts.

"Many of the lawyers I have spoken to are concerned because they know the court staff are overworked already. It can be very frustrating with court issues when you can't talk with someone and find out what is actually going on."

He said the biggest risk was the loss of institutional knowledge and memory held by the managers likely to be cut.

"This is definitely one of those situations where the public won't realise what is lost until they are in a position of having to deal with the court system. We focus on judges and lawyers but these are the ones that keep the machine running.

"No-one's against finding efficiencies, but this doesn't seem to be going about it the right way.

"It's an infinitesimal amount to save."

A ministry spokesman said on Tuesday that the savings were "not insignificant, but are not the only reason why these changes are being proposed".

"The proposals seek to improve how courts are administered and to modernise services so they are more in line with public expectations."

He said the ministry maintained comprehensive records of court workloads, and the number of court staff who carried out that work.

Criminal summary cases had dropped by 25 per cent over the past four years and that, plus a decrease in the number of people going to court, made room for the proposal.

CUTBACKS

Proposed changes include:

Taupo: A frontline service delivery manager replacing a court manager.

Napier: Two frontline service delivery managers replacing four positions, including a court manager and two caseflow managers.

Hastings: A frontline service delivery manager and two registry officers replacing four positions, including a court manager and two team leaders.

Palmerston North: Two frontline service delivery managers replacing eight positions, including a court manager and two caseflow managers.

Wellington: Three frontline service delivery managers, a victims manager, a support services co-ordinator and a support services specialist replacing 11 positions, including a court manager, three caseflow managers, and six team leaders.

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Lower Hutt: Two frontline service delivery managers, two registry officers and a victim adviser replacing five positions, including a court manager, and three team leaders.

Porirua: One frontline service delivery manager replacing a court manager and three team leaders.

Masterton: One frontline service delivery manager replacing three positions, including a court manager, team leader, and a court reporter.

Upper Hutt: Court closing with loss of manager, five registry officers, family court co-ordinator and victim adviser.

- The Dominion Post

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