Mayors fight downgrades

CHRIS GARDNER
Last updated 09:24 29/11/2012

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They are taking their concerns to the minister, reports Chris Gardner. 

A pair of Waikato mayors are heading to Wellington next week in a bid to get the Ministry of Justice to overturn its decision to downgrade Te Awamutu and Te Kuiti courts to "hearing only" status.

The ministry proposed the courts become "hearing only" courts from March 2013 without consulting local communities.

It means the courts, Waihi among them, will open only when hearings are scheduled.

Waitomo Mayor Brian Hanna told councillors at Tuesday's district council meeting that he and Waipa Mayor Alan Livingstone would meet the Minister for Courts Chester Borrows.

"We are going to leave no stone unturned," Mr Hanna said. "There's a lot at stake here."

The pair, backed by Otorohanga Mayor Dale Williams, said the changes would put core court services, such as the registrations of births, deaths and marriages, out of the reach of many.

"Lawyers and JPs are much less accessible than the courts for declarations and affidavits and travel to Hamilton is a problem for many. There is no public transport from Te Kuiti to Hamilton and neither is there any taxi service," the trio said in an eight-page submission they will deliver to the minister.

"There will be a considerable increase in workload for JPs and issuing officers with local court registrars no longer providing these services. Bail applications in police stations are not sufficiently public nor independent."

They say the downgrade of the courts will lead to a "significant reduction in the levels of service provided by our courts" and the trio decry the ministry's lack of consultation with local communities.

"We three mayors first knew of the issue only when the we were given a ‘courtesy' call a matter of minutes before a press release was made on the proposed changes," the submission said.

"Nobody within our community was shown the courtesy of being informed."

"This proposal means a significant reduction in the levels of service provided by our courts and will have a real impact on our communities. Importantly, this impact tends to be greatest on those people within our community who have the least resources and ability to absorb the impact of this loss of service.

"Rural communities pay taxes and contribute to the economy of the country yet are facing reduced services, it is hard for local authorities to keep their districts sustainable with such a conflicting central government approach.

"A court, in conjunction with local governance and law and order, is critical to a community's perception of safety and well-being."

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They argue online services are a barrier to those without the internet.

chris.gardner@waikatotimes.co.nz

- © Fairfax NZ News

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