1 Dec 2011

Courts closed for quake strengthening

7:17 pm on 1 December 2011

Six district court buildings have been closed at short notice and will remain out of action for up to a year while earthquake strengthening work is carried out.

The Upper Hutt, Masterton, Feilding, Rangiora, Oamaru and Balclutha courts are affected, as are registry functions for the High Court at Masterton, which is in the same building as the district court there.

The Ministry of Justice says there is no imminent danger, but engineering assessments showed strengthening work was needed.

Alternative venues have been arranged in Wellington, Palmerston North, Timaru and elsewhere.

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Acting deputy secretary for courts Robert Pigou told Checkpoint he accepts there will be delays to hearings as a result of the closures.

He says work has started on transferring some court services and the ministry is looking at providing buses for people to travel to the nearest available court.

District Council calls urgent meeting over closure

The Waitaki district council has called an urgent meeting for next Tuesday to discuss the closure of Oamaru's courthouse.

The 130-year-old white stone building has been rated at just 13% of the building code, about one third of the standard currently required by law.

A lawyer and chairperson of the Whitestone Civic Trust, Phil Hope, says a replacement venue for the court must be urgently found in the town.

Mr Hope says the ministry's plan to hold hearings one hour away in Timaru will add significant cost and inconvenience for lawyers and their clients.

The Law Society is expecting a lot of disruption as a result of the closure of the six court houses and says the suddenness of the announcement will have taken people by surprise.

Society president Jonathan Temm says there will be a lot of uncertainty for court staff, police, judges, lawyers and their clients.

However, he says if the ministry feels urgent action needs to be taken to strengthen buildings, he supports that.

Mr Temm told Morning Report venues such as golf clubs or marae need to be sourced so the courts can carry out their normal business.

The remedial work is expected to cost about $2 million.

Another blow for Canterbury

The Rangiora District Court has been one of several Canterbury venues used for legal proceedings while the Christchurch courts remain unusable because of earthquake damage.

The Law Society's Canterbury-Westland branch president, Allister Davis, says its closure will have a significant impact on the delivery of justice in the region.

Mr Davis says the court was central to the region's recovery and its closure puts Canterbury back to where it was after the February earthquake.

He says the court system in the region is already stretched and the closure will inevitably delay the hearing of cases.