Protesters call for halt to court cuts

By Annette Lambly

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Around 150 protesters demonstrated outside Dargaville courthouse yesterday, including lawyers, Justices of the Peace, iwi, business owners, service groups and the public.

The protest was a last ditch attempt to convince the Minister of Court Chester Borrows to halt his decision on the Dargaville Court.

Overcome by the heat, an elderly woman collapsed during the protest and was attended to by St John personnel at the scene.

Yesterday local resident Colleen Urlich said the Government was "ripping the guts out of rural communities".

"Courts aren't just for criminals - they service the general public in many ways," she said.

Having lived 55 years in Dargaville another resident, Jean O' Neill said she felt she had "been stabbed in the back".

"I am disgusted with the Government ... we've already lost our surgical and maternity hospital services, our rail ... The Government doesn't seem to care about its rural people anymore," she said.

Others expressed concern at the added responsibility volunteers groups such as JPs, Citizens Advice would be expected to pick up as the reduced counter services impacted.

Supporting his former hometown's opposition was New Zealand First leader, Winston Peters.

"It's Rural New Zealand that keeps this country going ... yet suffer cut back after cutback to balance the books," he said.

He queried the logic of adding Dargaville's court days into the mix when the two full-time staff members at Dargaville were made redundant as part of the proposal.

Green list MP David Clendon believed justice services should be increased not reduced, suggesting drug and alcohol courts to help deal with what was a major problem in Northland.

Both MPs will present a petition to Parliament today with 1200 signatures (half the town's voters) collected in one week by a specially-formed committee.

"It's pretty depressing," said local solicitor Darrell Hart.

"It's just a bad proposal, especially the concept of holding bail hearings in police cells ... it shows they (the Government) haven't thought through the practicalities."

- Northern Advocate

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