Dargaville loses battle to keep court services

By Annette Lambly

Dargaville has lost its battle to retain the town's full court services.

Courts Minister Chester Borrows yesterday confirmed the changes to the District Court network announced in October.

The changes involve nine courts being used only for hearings, rather than being open five days a week, and the closure of four other small courts.

Dargaville will become a "hearings-only court' in March and lose its two full-time staff.

The announcement has "not surprised, but greatly disappointed" the Dargaville community who lobbied against the proposal.

On Tuesday, Green MP David Clendon and New Zealand First leader Winston Peters presented a 1200-signature petition to Parliament.

"We have a plan to modernise courts though greater use of technology, better processes and more efficient use of infrastructure," said Mr Borrows.

"The key shift is to use courthouses for hearings and to deliver other services in more modern ways, such as via phone, internet or video-conference.

"Crime is at a 30-year low and the number of criminal summary cases has dropped 25 per cent since 2008/09. The Government is taking the opportunity to improve the administration of New Zealand's District Courts to bring them in to line with public expectations of convenient and accessible services."

Mr Borrows said the hearing-only courts presented a way to ensure local hearings were still available in communities where they are needed.

Spokesperson for the groups opposing the move, regional councillor Graeme Ramsey, said: "The Government keep saying it will improve things, but we can't see any advantages. The information used to determine the decisions is sadly lacking on a number of concerns. It will not give any cost savings to the taxpayer - only shift costs to Justices of the Peace, probation services, the police and the courts in Whangarei..."

Mr Ramsey said it was a credit to the community who had taken action against what they saw was a bad decision.

Mr Borrows said the ministry will now work with local police, Corrections, lawyers and others to ensure a smooth transition to the new arrangements next year.

- Northern Advocate

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