Courts Minister Chester Borrows today announced changes to the District Court network, as part of efforts to modernise court operations.
“With crime falling to record lows and the number of people coming to court decreasing, we are taking the opportunity to improve how the 63 District Courts are administered and to modernise services so they are more in line with public expectations,” says Mr Borrows.
“Crimes rates have fallen year after year and criminal summary cases have fallen almost 20 per cent since 2007/08. Our small courts are spending more and more of their time sitting empty and the Criminal Procedure Act, which comes into force next July, will remove another 31,000 court events each year.
“Modernisation also means making better use of new technology, such as the Electronic Operating Model being developed. This will move most criminal case files onto a new electronic system from July next year, saving more than 90,000 hours of effort per year and resulting in faster and better services for court users.”
The changes being announced today, the first for 30 years, involve nine small courts being used only for hearings, rather than being open five days a week, and four small courts being disestablished.
“With many small District Courts sitting empty three or four days a week, moving nine courts to hearing-only courts presents an effective way to ensure local hearings are still available in communities where they are needed,” says Mr Borrows.
The hearing-only courts will be Dargaville, Waihi, Te Awamutu, Te Kuiti, Opotiki, Marton, Waipukurau, Oamaru and Balclutha.
The four courts to be disestablished are Feilding and Upper Hutt, which have been closed since late last year because of earthquake risk, and Warkworth and Whataroa.
Whataroa court, with only 11 sitting hours spread over four days in 2011, is one of the least-used courts in the country, second only to the Chatham Islands’ court. Warkworth also is one of the least-used courts, with sitting time totalling less than 20 full days over 2011. As with many courts, this workload has been consistently falling over recent years, a trend which is projected to continue.
The Feilding and Upper Hutt courts have been closed since November 2011 due to the high risk of collapse in an earthquake. Both are near larger courts – Palmerston North and Lower Hutt – where their work is already being successfully managed from. These larger courts also have extra services available such as greater security and specialised services.
“I’m glad we can now give certainty for the Upper Hutt and Feilding communities. This decision reflects the fact that since these courthouses were closed last year the interim arrangements have worked very well,” says Mr Borrows.
“These changes are possible due to the success this Government has had in reducing crime rates, and will help us deliver the modern, customer-focused court services New Zealanders expect.”
The Ministry of Justice will be talking to stakeholders about how these changes would work. The Ministry will also consult with staff affected by the proposed changes.
It is expected that any changes will take effect in early 2013.
Further information, including detailed information on individual courthouses, can be found at www.justice.govt.nz/courts/changes.
Changes_to_the_District_Court_network_Q&A.pdf (pdf 55.88 KB)