Oamaru lawyer Phil Hope outside the Oamaru District
Courthouse, which faces the closure of its court registry
office in March. Photo by Andrew Ashton.
Justice officials have been accused of using concerns
about building safety to downgrade regional court services.
Courts Minister Chester Borrows yesterday confirmed court
registry offices in Oamaru and Balclutha would close in March
as both venues are downgraded to hearings-only courts, a move
also imposed on another seven regional courts nationally.
The decision has provoked anger among southern community
leaders. Clutha Mayor Bryan Cadogan said Balclutha had fought
hard to retain the courthouse when it was thought to be a
building safety issue.''
There's a lot of frustration that the honesty wasn't there to
tell us the true agenda, that we could lose our court
services altogether. The way they did it lacked integrity.''
Mr Cadogan said the process seemed to use earthquake concerns
as a ''smokescreen'' for shifting court services to Gore.''
I'm hearing back on the extra costs and inefficiencies
involved with having our court hearings in Gore, and I have
yet to see even a shred of evidence of the cost savings from
transferring our court.''
Mr Borrows said he took exception to his integrity, and the
integrity of his department, being questioned.''
We have been completely upfront with the people of Balclutha.
Court services they have are remaining. The court list is
being heard in Gore because there are no premises suitable in
Oamaru lawyer Michael De Buyzer said local courts were more
that just ''a pure game of maths''.''
It's a retrograde step for the local community, made by
bureaucrats in Wellington who have no real understanding of
the role local court staff play.''
It's a body blow for the community. The [court] staff do a
lot of dealings with the public face to face, in resolving
matters that may be court or non-court related, quite apart
from having all that substantial local knowledge that adds to
the smooth functioning of the court.''
All of that is going to be lost.''
Fellow lawyer Phil Hope said the closure was nothing more
than a cost-cutting exercise and had ''very little'' to do
with improving services and the delivery of justice.
Mr Borrows said the changes would help modernise a new, more
technology-focused court system.''
Moving nine courts to hearing-only courts presents an
effective way to ensure local hearings are still available in
communities where they are needed.''
A ministry spokesman said although one management position
and ''1.8'' front-line positions at Oamaru had been
disestablished, a further 2.5 frontline positions had been
created in Timaru.
Mr Cadogan said he was sad to see the town's two registrars
go. They would be a loss to the Clutha community.
He has also heard stories of difficulties facing some people
trying to get to court in Gore.
The New Zealand Law Society also criticised the changes which
would make justice ''less accessible'' in rural communities.
Society president Jonathan Temm said rural court staff had
''considerable standing'' within their communities and the
restructuring would result in the loss of ''considerable
experience'' from smaller centres.
''We're not convinced that the Government has really
considered the impact of what it is doing on many communities
around the country. It needs to look beyond the `e-vision' to
the reality of what it means to suddenly have your access to
an important institution removed or reduced.''
Waitaki Mayor Alex Familton said theclosure should not affect
efforts to restore the Oamaru courthouse to full use.
An ongoing assessment of costs to bring the courthouse up to
earthquake standards should be completed by the ministry in
four months and he was confident it would mean the courthouse
would once again hold hearings. From March next year, fines
will have to be paid online, over the phone, or at a Post
Shop or Westpac Bank.
• Oamaru registry office, Coquet St, will close in March.
Hearings before a judge will continue.
• Administration services to move to Timaru District
• Courthouse was closed in November 2011.
• Balclutha registry office, Renfrew St, will close in
• Criminal court hearings will continue in Gore; family and
civil hearings in St John Ambulance Hall, Balclutha.
• Administration services will move to Dunedin District
• Courthouse was closed in November 2011