Female inmates will be cooking food and serving staff at New Zealand's busiest court in a plan being worked on by justice and prison bosses.

The prisoners, from Auckland Women's Prison, would be paid 20c to 60c an hour to work in the Auckland District Court canteen.

Reaction to the plan from people working in the courts has been mixed, and some have reservations about eating food prepared and served by inmates who might blame them for their imprisonment.

"You wouldn't eat the soup, would you?" said one lawyer.


The plan has also run into objections from judges. The Weekend Herald understands the Ministry of Justice informed them about the plan - and they responded by saying they should have been asked, rather than told.

A spokesman for Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue said: "The judges have been advised of the proposals, which have been deferred until they have had the opportunity to meet early next month with Justice and Corrections officials ..."

The canteen - until recently operated by Spotless Catering - is for court staff, although lawyers and others working in the court building eat there sometimes. Canteen staff also occasionally deliver food to judges in their chambers when they work through lunch breaks.

Corrections' northern regional commissioner, Jeanette Burns, said the plan was an extension of a current scheme under which low-security-risk prisoners near the end of their sentence were "released to work each day to aid in their eventual rehabilitation into society".

The women being considered for the court cafe jobs had completed training courses and were working for national certificates in commercial catering.

"Prisoners who get the right skills more readily get work on release, and offenders who work are less likely to reoffend."

Ms Burns said two cafes in the Corrections area were operated by inmates from the women's prison - one at the entrance to the prison and one for workers building the new Auckland South Corrections Facility.

No other proposals for inmate-operated public-sector cafes were being considered.

Ministry of Justice acting district courts manager Deirdre Marshall said the idea came from Corrections, which saw it as a way to help give low-risk inmates work experience in a commercial kitchen.

"We support the proposal and are working through it," she said.

Lawyer Karen Harding, whose work takes her to the court, said the scheme was a positive step.

"Why not?" she said. "Let's make some taxpayer savings while doing rehabilitation."