Public interest is key in any courthouse closure proposal says Law Society

Courthouses are important hubs in many communities. Any decisions to close them or set restricted operating hours must take account of the public interest in ensuring that access to justice is maintained, the New Zealand Law Society says.

Law Society courthouse spokesperson Iain Hutcheson has commented on the announcement of closures or withdrawal of courthouse staffing and changes in court management.

“There may be sound financial reasons for closing a courthouse, but the decision must ultimately be driven by ensuring the closure will improve the integrity of our justice system and retaining open access to the courts for all New Zealanders,” he says.

“Courthouses in provincial centres serve many purposes. These include the filing of proceedings, witnessing and swearing of official documents, marriage and civil union services, debt recovery and other civil proceedings.

“If closure of some courts is driven by the promise of better delivery of those services through technological advances, we would prefer the technology to be in place and operating to a proven minimum standard before any closures occur.”

Mr Hutcheson says any proposals to close courthouses also need to consider that citizens involved in family and criminal proceedings often lack financial stability, could have difficulty travelling to another centre and often need family support when they appear.

He says the Law Society has provided the Ministry of Justice with information on issues which have arisen over the past year through closures of some courthouses because of earthquake-related considerations.

“We will continue our communication with the ministry so it is kept fully advised of the impact of the closures and changes to courthouse operations and the court management structure,” he says.

“As always the paramount driver must be the maintenance and enhancement of the integrity of the justice system in New Zealand. The strength and future of our society needs and deserves that respect.”