Editorial: Courts are closed as crime rises

By Mark Story

For a time there it seemed likely the Waipukurau Courthouse had charged its last trench.

So I for one found it heartening to see the enduring landmark given a stay of execution by Courts Minister Chester Burrows.

Sort of.

Sort of because it's highly likely this is simply a reprieve. Its fate adjourned to another date.

As court reporter I've spent a few hours in this enduring courthouse. It's without a doubt the cutest in the province. And the cosiest.

On any given list day there's standing room only. The tiny public gallery is always packed. Defence lawyers fall over each other from the bar, reporters share a table top with the probation service and even at times, witnesses giving evidence.

This of course is more an observation than a criticism.

It's a superb building. Sash windows, high stud and polished native timber - much like a tiny cathedral. You could say it's a courtroom where the separation of church and state is less pronounced.

Yet for my sins I'd wager it'll be only a few years before someone will be selling coffee and paninis from the bar. Or perhaps it will be resplendent with picture frames and a gallery space created.

As a reporter, born and raised in Waipawa, it was sometimes a little too close to home for me. Defendants' surnames tended to ring bells. Often.

A chap the same age as my youngest brother left me devastated on appearing there a few months back to plead guilty to viciously beating his partner. As he was led away to jail, I realised I hadn't seen his face since he lay next to my baby brother in a bassinet in the old Waipukurau maternity home.

I regarded the place as a weatherboard metaphor for a growth industry. That is, it was designed more than a century ago with the belief that such a modest square-meterage would easily cater to the district's crime. No one predicted membership would rise so rapidly.

Whether litigators or court staff enjoy travelling to the outpost court houses is unknown. Notwithstanding this wonderful corner amenity, I suspect judges prefer benches closer to home.

But regardless, there's no denying the nostalgia, heritage and intangible value of having a judicial cornerstone in a small community. It's a puzzling scenario where you end up downscaling a business bursting at the seams.

The disestablishment of these courthouses would be infinitely easier to accept if it had less to do with rationalisation - and more to do with a decline in this "growth industry".

- Hawkes Bay Today

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