Historic court gets reprieve

The historic Waipukurau Courthouse has been given a reprieve in being kept open for occasional hearing of cases in the town.

Built more than a century ago, the court's future had been under some threat because of a need for re-piling identified in an earthquake risk assessment, amid a nationwide courts review which yesterday introduced the biggest changes in the system of 63 courts in New Zealand in more than 30 years.

Four small courts will close, and Waipukurau is one of nine other smaller-town courts scaled-down for some hearings, as little as one or two days a month, but losing five-days-a-week office services.

A Courts Department spokesman said the single-storey building has a low seismic risk and restrengthening has not yet been scheduled.

APNZ reported yesterday 31 jobs will be lost across the 13 closed or downsized courts, among more than 100 jobs to go from the Courts Department throughout the country.

The review comes after Courts Minister Chester Borrows announced in June that courts would introduce new technology to replace paper-based criminal systems with an electronic case management system by next July.

"We need to move away from investment in buildings that are used infrequently, and instead direct our investment to areas where there is more demand for court services," he said.

"We also want to focus our investment into improving technology, and the faster and better services this can deliver for court users."

Small courts deal with a fraction of District Court work nationally, the largest 10 sitting for 62 per cent of hearing time nationally, while the smallest 10 deal with less than 0.75 per cent.

Small courts sit idle at least 80 per cent of available sitting time.

Last year the Upper Hutt, Masterton, Feilding, Rangiora, Oamaru and Balclutha courts closed temporarily while earthquake strengthening work was carried out.

Feilding and Upper Hutt are now closed permanently, joining courts at Warkworth and Whataroa, while courts scaled down with Waipukurau are Dargaville, Waihi, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Opotiki, Marton, Oamaru and Balclutha.

Mr Borrows said changes come into effect early next year.

"With many small district courts sitting empty three or four days a week moving nine courts to hearing-only courts presents an effective way to ensure local hearings are still available in communities where they are needed," he said.

- Hawkes Bay Today

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