No rethink on court plans

By Annette Lambly

While Minister for Courts Chester Borrows is standing behind his decision to make the Dargaville District Court a "hearings only" court by March, undeterred opponents of the proposal will continue to fight it.

Fronting up to about 100 people at a "snap" meeting in Dargaville this week, Mr Borrows said the decision had not been made lightly and was based on the context of falling crime, declining case volumes and the need for a more efficient court system.

Since a full range of hearings would still be offered, the only change would be having no counter services on non-hearing days. Therefore, "there will be no additional travel, costs to court users, or impact for whanau of those appearing in court".

To issues raised about no phones, computers or internet access and concerns public safety could be compromised by perceived problems associated with police escorting prisoners, Mr Borrows said in the first instance there were numerous ways to access the justice system's counter services.

"There are numerous agencies where fines can be paid, JPs' clinics, call centres and the Citizens Advice Bureau to handle inquiries - the post and courier - and online services: "Everyone knows someone who has a computer and has access to the internet ...

We have thought about all of the issues you have raised."

Mr Borrows said counter demand had dropped to 8 per cent, while nationwide online service access had increased and there were "bigger changes happening". He outlined how expected technology changes within the justice system would reduce registry workloads.

Police were already carrying out escort duties outside court hours and while he initially saw no problems with bail hearings being transferred to the police station (they are heard at the courthouse now) he agreed to discuss that issue further.

Some of those who attended did not feel their concerns had been fully understood and said: "Unless we make a stand this will happen ... we need to make our voice louder."

It is feared the changes may be the first step towards the court's fall closure and a petition to be presented to Parliament continues to be circulated and more meetings will be held to discuss the next steps.

Mr Borrows is expected to make his final decision in early December.


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