Proposal for Auckland court centralisation not supported

Significant concerns about aspects of a proposal for reorganisation of Auckland District Court mean the New Zealand Law Society does not support the proposal in its current form.

Among major concerns are the impact the proposal will have on vulnerable families who would be forced to travel into central Auckland to access court services.

The Law Society has released its comments to the Ministry of Justice on the discussion document Proposed New Operating Model for District Courts in Auckland.

The Law Society says it accepts the proposed reorganisation primarily relates to the administrative operations of the ministry and that the ministry has additional undisclosed internal information.

“However, lawyers are able to provide worthwhile perspectives on how the proposed changes would affect them and their clients because of their day-to-day experiences of the operation in different courthouses,” the Society’s submission states.

The Law Society outlines a number of key concerns it has with the proposed reorganisation. Chief among these is that it will “inevitably” cause extra expense and inconvenience for clients and their lawyers.

“This extra expense and inconvenience will fall disproportionately on those in the lower socio-economic areas in South Auckland, West Auckland and North Shore, affecting the most vulnerable and their children,” the submission says.

“Vulnerable families will be unlikely to have the financial means to travel and access court services in central Auckland. This extra expense and inconvenience will also apply to litigants in person, who are found in both family and civil litigation.

Among the other concerns expressed in the submission:

· While the ministry points to the success of a similar scheme in Melbourne, Australia, the Melbourne public transport system is far superior to that in Auckland. Melbourne lawyers themselves have told the Law Society that their system is particularly disadvantageous for poor litigants.

· Proposals for transportation of files need to be carefully thought through. There is already evidence of problems will getting files from one part of a courthouse to another, and this will be exacerbated when files have to moved from courthouse to courthouse.

· While the two courthouses in Waitakere and North Shore which are particularly effective and well run are having their services reduced, the operational burden on Central Auckland and Manukau courthouses is being increased – even though these have “struggled” from time to time.

· There is a risk that the institutional knowledge of the managers and experienced staff at different courthouses could be lost, along with local knowledge over the appointment of counsellors, lawyers for the child and psychologists.

· It is significant that there is considerable concern at the proposal among community groups in Waitakere, North Shore and South Auckland, and dissatisfaction at the lack of consultation so far.

The Law Society also states that while it appreciates the proposal currently only relates to the Greater Auckland area, it would be very concerned if it is applied elsewhere in New Zealand “until the proposed model for the Greater Auckland area has been in operation for some time and has been carefully reviewed”.

The submission concludes with a request for an opportunity to discuss the Society’s concerns with the Ministry of Justice. It says it has focused on its key concerns and would welcome the opportunity to engage further with the ministry on how the concerns might be appropriately addressed.

The submission was prepared with assistance from the Society’s Courthouse Committee and Family Law Section.