Crown turns deaf ear to pleas to keep court

CATE BROUGHTON
Last updated 05:00 07/03/2014

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North Canterbury

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The closure of Rangiora Court will waste hours of valuable policing time, police say.

North Canterbury sub-area commander Senior Sergeant Malcolm Johnston said police would be forced to travel to and from Christchurch for defended hearings rather than simply walking 200 metres to the court.

"My officers will have to drive into Christchurch and sit in the back of the court waiting for their case to come up, twiddling their thumbs," he said. When the Rangiora Courthouse was deemed quake prone in November 2011, the court moved to Christchurch, with many hoping it would return to Rangiora.

The Rangiora Court ceased to exist this week and now the North Canterbury list will be merged into the Christchurch District Court list.

When the court was operating in Rangiora police were almost guaranteed their case would be heard on the assigned day, Johnston said.

However, in Christchurch a case might not be heard on the first day and the officer would need to return.

He said officers were required to appear at defended hearings twice a week. "But that's just the way it is now, so we will work with that."

The fight to keep Rangiora Court open began soon after the 121-year-old courthouse was declared earthquake prone, and closed in 2011.

Rangiora lawyers Keith Hales and John Brandts-Giesen, supported by the NZ Law Society, led the charge but, despite their many submissions and meetings with local MP Kate Wilkinson, the axe fell in December last year.

Justice Minister Chester Borrows said the closure was part of a larger programme of modernisation for the courts system. The rationale was dismissed by Hales and Brandts-Giesen. "Ultimately, if we believe in improving access to justice, this is a step backwards," Brandts-Giesen said.

The court closure has not gone down well with the region's mayors.

"It's important that justice is seen to be done in local communities.

It certainly takes the courts further away from North Canterbury - and it's not just Rangiora, it's the whole of North Canterbury," Waimakariri Mayor David Ayers said.

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- The Press

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