The Government’s decision to shut down up to eight regional courthouses, some supposedly only temporarily for seismic reasons, looks unlikely to be reversed, Labour’s Justice spokesperson Jacinda Ardern says.
“The move has hit these regions hard, but appears to be a cost cutting exercise rather than a ‘re-strengthening’ one.
“Since coming into office, the Government has closed courthouses in Fielding, Warkworth, Whataroa, Upper Hutt, Balclutha, Rangiora and significantly downsized services in Oamaru.
“While it claims Warkworth and Whataroa were closed because of lack of use, most others were shut down due to ‘earthquake safety’ and indications were they would be strengthened and reopened.
“Ensuring buildings are safe is important, but this exercise should not be an excuse for courts to be permanently closed, and services moved to other centres.
“Courthouse land at Rangiora and Balclutha, for instance, has permanently transferred to Land Information New Zealand, while legal services are provided via Christchurch and Dunedin.
“Other services are being offered in temporary structures, with no clear plans to reopen permanent buildings.
“The budget suggests these moves aren’t necessarily about safety, but money. The courts have experienced a cut in budget in real terms of more than four per cent since 2009.
“As the Justice Ministry itself points out, our courts provide a raft of services, including resolving civil disputes, enforcing the criminal law, upholding the rights of individuals, and ensuring that government agencies stay within the law.
“No one is arguing against the impact of changing technology and population patterns, but changes should not simply be a cost cutting exercise.
“These closures will have a serious impact on access to justice in regions where access is already difficult or limited,” Jacinda Ardern says.