Plan to close courts 'heavy-handed'

KATE CHAPMAN AND ANDREA VANCE
Last updated 05:00 04/10/2012

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Up to  100 jobs could be lost and four courts permanently closed under a Government proposal announced yesterday. Other smaller courts could also face the cut.

Staff were called to meetings and presented with an 80-page consultation document.

The Justice Ministry's plan is to close Feilding, Upper Hutt, Warkworth and Whataroa courts.

Nine courtrooms in other towns would be used for hearings only, rather than being open five days a week.

Public Service Association national secretary Richard Wagstaff said the "heavy-handed" restructuring had taken staff by surprise.

More than 200 people would be affected, with 100 jobs likely to go.

Several tiers of district court management would be wiped out, except in Auckland, and staff forced to take redundancy.

The consultation document issued yesterday suggested other courts could also close. "In the future, many small courthouses will require significant investment."

The ministry had to weigh that with making the best use of taxpayers' money, it said.

A ministry spokesman said change was needed to modernise court management and provide better services to court users and the public. “Services to communities will be largely unchanged by these proposals and public services will be far better through the modernisation initiatives we are putting in place.”

Courts Minister Chester Borrows said it was 30 years since changes had been made to the courts and many small district courts were sitting empty three or four days a week.

The final changes will be announced in December.

PROPOSALS

Close Feilding, Upper Hutt, Warkworth and Whataroa courts.

Dargaville, Waihi, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Opotiki, Marton, Waipukurau, Oamaru and Balclutha to be hearing-only courts with no permanent staff.

Cut two tiers of management from the district court system, except in Auckland.

Introduce a new ministry 0800 number.

Cut 10 court registry officer positions next year through natural attrition.

Increase the number of staff in the Auckland-based centralised juror support team.

Set up a multi-jurisdictional customer service centre in Christchurch.

Create new positions in the centralised call centre.

Centralise High Court probate applications in Wellington.

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