John Drinnan

Media writer for the New Zealand Herald

Govt pays PR firm to run court website

Attorney-General Chris Finlayson speaks to the judges of the Supreme Court in this file photo. Govt is paying a private PR company to maintain the website that posts judicial decisions online. Photo / Marty Melville
Attorney-General Chris Finlayson speaks to the judges of the Supreme Court in this file photo. Govt is paying a private PR company to maintain the website that posts judicial decisions online. Photo / Marty Melville

Taxpayers are paying a corporate lobbying and public relations firm top dollar to run a website that the opposition says could be run by public servants for much less.

Labour's State Services spokesperson Maryan Street says the Justice Ministry is paying Senate SHJ Communications $128,000 per year for a website that posts judicial decisions.

Its own in-house communications team costs $750,000 a year and it spends a further $163,000 maintaining all eleven of its websites.

Street questioned the use of a company that acts for corporates like Rio Tinto, BP and Woolworths. She said the role - which implies editorial license - is "reprehensible.".

But beyond the complaint that a top end government relations firm should not be managing the website is the cost. According to the Justice Ministry the contract set in 2006 has never been the subject of a public tender.

The work was handed to Senate.

Justice department spokesman Matt Torbit said that the website - which posts Court decisions - belonged to the judiciary and not the Department.

Torbit said the Judiciary did not have the resources to operate the website and the work had to be carried out by an out-of-house agency.

PR firm Senate operates and maintains the website on behalf of the Judiciary and this is paid for out of the Ministry's judicial support budget.

Torbit said discussions between the judiciary and Senate about the website - which was taken over by Senate in 2006 - had begun last year.

"We are working on bringing the operation of the service into the office of the Chief Justice," Torbit said. Senate SHJ general manager Tracey Bridges said she could not comment about the contract.

- NZ Herald

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