10 years on, Dargaville again fights for court

By Annette Lambly

The outraged Dargaville community is hoping the Minister of Courts Chester Burrows will see sense at a public meeting on Monday.

"If the Minister doesn't listen, we will do what it takes to make him listen," says Graeme Ramsey, regional councillor and spokesman for the groups leading the challenge against the Government's proposed downsizing of the local court to a hearing-only facility.

"We want him to realise his proposal is not the best for our community," said Mr Ramsey.

"Dargaville has fought for its courthouse before and it will fight for it again."

It's tough talk from a community fed up with being stripped of its services, and a town angry at what it calls the "stacked" statistics used to justify the decision.

"What really guts is they [the Government] are saying crime is going down ... In Dargaville it's reduced by only 0.58 per cent," said Mr Ramsey.

He says restricting access to a courthouse limits the availability of an accessible justice system.

"It costs in excess of $90,000 to keep a person in jail for one year," said Mr Ramsey.

"This country already has too many people in jail ... we need a justice system to be responsive, sympathetic and as accessible as possible to the people using it.

"We want offenders to have access to whanau support through all the stages of the process. What we don't want is more fines, more arrests, more warrants, more jail sentences."

Mr Ramsey said he believes the proposed changes will not result in any cost savings or improved services but instead be "a retrograde step for us all ... with costs being shifted to other Government departments."

It's not the first time Dargaville has battled the Government regarding its judicial services.

Ten years ago Mr Ramsey, who was then mayor, was among those who successfully resisted the Government's proposed closure.

The result was a $600,000 courthouse upgrade.

"I hope the Minister will take the time to visit and see the courthouse for himself ... it is an excellent facility," said Mr Ramsey. "The same reasons which justified its existence then, still remain and are served well by the existing services."

Now 10 years later it's: "here we go again ... small communities being bashed by the Government".

Mr Ramsey urged all those who have already expressed an interest in justice to attend the meeting in the Dargaville Town Hall on Monday, November 26, at 10.30. Due to other commitments the Minister is restricted to a one-hour visit.

- Northern Advocate

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