David Fisher

David Fisher is a senior reporter for the NZ Herald.

Infestation at district court spurs lawyer to wear anti-flea anklet

A lawyer at the Waitakere District Court (pictured) took to wearing a flea collar - just one of the hygiene issues reported at the court. Photo / file
A lawyer at the Waitakere District Court (pictured) took to wearing a flea collar - just one of the hygiene issues reported at the court. Photo / file

A lawyer took to wearing a flea collar on her ankle at one of the country's biggest courts while others reported maggots falling from the ceiling, an inquiry into working conditions has been told.

At a meeting this year, general manager of district courts Tony Fisher was told of the flea infestation and other hygiene issues at Waitakere District Court, while staff talked of being overworked in cramped conditions.

Since the meeting those working in the court speak of some improvement but say the only real answer is to build a new courthouse - a solution which is still years away.

Barrister Bridie Murphy, who works regularly at the court, said she knew the lawyer who had taken to wearing a flea collar.

"One of the lawyers did do that. There's been an infestation of fleas with people getting their ankles bitten. They did sweep through and do pest treatment but it probably has to happen more often than it does."

She said there had been some changes but those working in the court area were still under pressure from a building which was struggling to meet requirements.

Ms Murphy said toilets at the court had been a constant issue with some out of commission for weeks.

She also confirmed reports from colleagues of an incident in which maggots fell from the ceiling.

Ms Murphy said people appearing before the court, or coming as support people, often came in with a cluster of children "who need to be fed and watered - there's a lot of food lying around because they're there all day".

She praised court staff and managers for keeping the court functioning.

"We don't have enough judges, we don't have enough space, we don't have enough registrars. I'm always amazed it just seems to tootle along."

Staff spoken to by the Herald said other issues raised at the meeting this year included conditions in the cells, which had limited facilities for lawyers to interview clients, and the safety of judges in one of the courtrooms that had a corridor shared by remand prisoners and judges.

"There's always a chance [a remand prisoner] might come across a judge," said Ms Murphy.

One person working in the courts said an extra four court staff had been hired, but added that the Ministry of Justice made room by removing the desks staff had been using and replacing them with smaller desks.

Mr Fisher said there were plans to refurbish the Waitakere court but replacing it was a long-term strategy.

The court is one of the few to have an increase in criminal cases, up 1 per cent in 2013, against a 10 per cent decrease for all New Zealand.

- NZ Herald

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