A lawyer took to wearing a flea collar on her ankle at one of
the country's biggest courts while others reported maggots
falling from the ceiling, an inquiry into working conditions
has been told.
At a meeting this year, general manager of district courts
Tony Fisher was told of the flea infestation and other
hygiene issues at Waitakere District Court, while staff
talked of being overworked in cramped conditions.
Since the meeting those working in the court speak of some
improvement but say the only real answer is to build a new
courthouse - a solution which is still years away.
Barrister Bridie Murphy, who works regularly at the court,
said she knew the lawyer who had taken to wearing a flea
"One of the lawyers did do that. There's been an infestation
of fleas with people getting their ankles bitten. They did
sweep through and do pest treatment but it probably has to
happen more often than it does."
She said there had been some changes but those working in the
court area were still under pressure from a building which
was struggling to meet requirements.
Ms Murphy said toilets at the court had been a constant issue
with some out of commission for weeks.
She also confirmed reports from colleagues of an incident in
which maggots fell from the ceiling.
Ms Murphy said people appearing before the court, or coming
as support people, often came in with a cluster of children
"who need to be fed and watered - there's a lot of food lying
around because they're there all day".
She praised court staff and managers for keeping the court
"We don't have enough judges, we don't have enough space, we
don't have enough registrars. I'm always amazed it just seems
to tootle along."
Staff spoken to by the Herald said other issues raised at the
meeting this year included conditions in the cells, which had
limited facilities for lawyers to interview clients, and the
safety of judges in one of the courtrooms that had a corridor
shared by remand prisoners and judges.
"There's always a chance [a remand prisoner] might come
across a judge," said Ms Murphy.
One person working in the courts said an extra four court
staff had been hired, but added that the Ministry of Justice
made room by removing the desks staff had been using and
replacing them with smaller desks.
Mr Fisher said there were plans to refurbish the Waitakere
court but replacing it was a long-term strategy.
The court is one of the few to have an increase in criminal
cases, up 1 per cent in 2013, against a 10 per cent decrease
for all New Zealand.