3 Oct 2012

Jobs to go in district court shake-up

9:12 pm on 3 October 2012

The Government plans to save $14 million in the coming four years as a result of closing District Courts and putting more of their business online.

While 200 positions are being disestablished, the Justice Ministry estimates that about 70 jobs will ultimately be lost.

Four courts will be shut down and nine others will function only part-time under plans announced by the Government on Wednesday in the biggest shake-up of the court in three decades.

Courts at Warkworth, north of Auckland, and at Whataroa on the West Coast will close due to a lack of work.

The Feilding and Upper Hutt court houses, both of which have been closed due to the risk of collapse in an earthquake, will stay permanently shut. A decision is still to be made on the future of the Rangiora District Court, also closed due to quake fears.

Courts in Dargaville, Waihi, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Opotiki, Marton, Waipukurau, Oamaru and Balclutha will open only for hearings.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows says people can pay fines, get birth certificates or contest fines online and will soon be able to use the internet to find out when their hearing is scheduled.

Mr Borrows says the cutbacks are about modernising the system in the face of new technology and the changes in small courts should come as no surprise to staff.

But the Public Service Association's national secretary, Richard Wagstaff, says the changes have come as a bombshell.

"They know that there's change in the wind - but they certainly weren't expecting to come to work today and find out that something like 200 jobs will be disestablished and that there'd be this many people being made redundant.

"It's been a very tough day at the office for court staff - they're reeling from this announcement and looking at the job market and wondering just what the future holds for them."

Mr Borrows expects the changes to take effect from March next year.

Fears for 'vulnerable' clients, mayor positive

A community law centre manager says the planned overhaul of the court system will affect the most vulnerable members of society.

Lynette O'Boyle runs the centre in Whangarei and told Radio New Zealand's Checkpoint programme on Wednesday her clients generally do not have internet access and sometimes lack phone access.

"The clients that I see are the country's most vulnerable. In order to qualify for the service of a community law centre, you must either not be able to afford a lawyer or not be able to afford legal aid. So those are the sort of people that would be accessing the services of a courthouse."

Ms O'Boyle says courthouses carry out many duties other than court appearances.

The closure of the Whataroa courthouse in south Westland would mean locals must to travel 140km north to Greymouth.

But Maureen Pugh, mayor of Westland District Council, told Checkpoint losing the court could be a good thing for the community.

"The building itself is used for approximately 11 hours a year. So except for people who have had some conflict with the law, it's not going to make a great deal of difference to the locals down there.

"What it may do is free up ... a very beautiful old building. Someone with a bit of imagination could actually turn that building into something quite unique."