Court changes fought

By Annette Lambly

Lobby group Kaipara Grey Power are to host a public meeting to discuss options for opposing the Government's proposed reduction of services at the Dargaville Courthouse.

Changes to the district court network announced last month will see Dargaville District Court, one of nine nationwide, become a hearings only court by early next year.

Anyone with concerns about the proposal is welcome to attend the meeting to be held at the Methodist Church tomorrow at 1pm.

Last week, a petition was circulated in the town requesting the Justice Department to withdraw the proposal. More than 500 people have already signed the submission with further signatures being added daily.

With the exception of Hone Harawira, who has indicated he will "endeavour" to attend the meeting, other Northland politicians have declined Grey Power's invitation, saying they are too busy to attend at such short notice.

The Justice Department in Whangarei has also declined, but indicated they will be holding a meeting of their own to discuss the issue with affected stakeholders.

Members of the Northland JP Association, a member of the local bar, farmer representative groups and other community organisations are expected to speak at tomorrow's meeting. Former mayor and now regional councillor Graeme Ramsey, who is unable to attend, has been taped.

Spokesman for the group, Ken Cashin, says the community is determined it will not give up its courthouse services without a fight. The ministerial move is seen as a major blow to the community and a further erosion of services in rural areas, with little care for the consequences.

The loss of a local registry is seen as having a major effect on community service which will go over and above legal matters.

"Even the choice of a registry office wedding will be taken from the community ... people won't even be able to obtain a marriage licence," says resident Lara Ozkan.

Fears regarding police being required to escort defendants to Whangarei for bail hearings, thereby taking them away from duties within the district, are among numerous concerns being highlighted by the community.

In 2002, the Dargaville Courthouse was given a $600,000 revamp because it was seen as an essential service for a geographical region that is spread out and isolated with no public transport.

- Northern Advocate

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