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“Responding to community need” - Matt Robson


Remarks by
Hon Matt Robson, Minister for Courts,
at the final sitting to mark the closure of
the Otahuhu District Court

“Responding to community need”

27 October 2000, 2.00pm
[Embargoed until delivery]

E mihi ana ki te Atua
Nana nei hanga nga mea katoa

E mihi ana ki a ratou kua hoki atu
Haere haere oti atu

E nga Rangatira
E te Paepae tapu
Tena koutou katoa

Chief Judge Young, members of the Judiciary, members of the legal profession, my fellow speakers, departmental staff, guests.

It’s a great pleasure to have the opportunity to speak to you this afternoon as Minister for Courts.

Today I want to share with you a few thoughts about the court system and where it is headed, as we close the old and move on to the new.

Looking around this courtroom I see many old friends. As you know, I am no stranger to this courthouse, having spent many long hours here representing clients.

[Minister may wish to relate personal anecdotes about his experiences at Otahuhu].

There can be no doubt that the courts are the cornerstone of our free and just society. Courts are the fulcrum of dispute resolution, settling issues in a peaceful and fair manner, delivering justice.

The links between the courts and the community are strong. We must never lose sight of the fact that the court system is part of our community, and our community is a part of our court system. This relationship is essential to our system of justice.

Our society has become more sophisticated. Today, people are demanding much higher standards from a modern public service. Responding to the needs of the community means developing our public institutions to support those needs.

As Minister for Courts, I am determined to ensure we make real progress in bringing court administration into the 21st century.

The department has developed an extensive programme designed to modernise the department, provide high quality service to the community and provide sophisticated support and research facilities for members of the Judiciary.

In making these improvements we remind ourselves that the court system is inherently conservative. Its processes have been built up over many years and in some cases are based on fundamental concepts of justice dating back hundreds of years.

Great care is being taken to ensure that changes will lead to real benefits for court users and the Judiciary without effecting the fairness of the process.

Since the modernisation work began in 1997, huge progress has been made and substantial gains won.

Modernisation of the Maori Land Court and the Fines Collection unit is all but completed.

The next phase of modernisation involves introducing the concept of case management to the registries. Case management, itself, reflects the desire of the courts system to take control of the cases that are filed with it and to manage them actively rather than playing a passive role.

That is a quantum shift in the philosophy of managing the court system.

The redesigned operational model has been trialed in two working courts, the Wellington District Court and the Christchurch High Court. This has provided detailed practical information about the new processes and roles envisaged, the staff knowledge and skills needed and the information technology tools required to support them. Needing further analysis, this information will provide an invaluable positive platform on which to move forward in the court registries.

The modernisation is now at the “Checkpoint” phase designed to ensure that the range of initiatives taking place all fit together to ensure that the end results can be achieved. This includes the construction of a business readiness model, which will allow for detailed analysis of any remaining issues to be addressed in courts prior to the introduction of new processes.

The Department has a fresh, new focus on building strong and healthy relationships. Those involved in the courts see the results of fractured relationships every day. It is little wonder that courts has taken the lead by placing a much greater emphasis on effective relationship management.

The innovative new era in industrial relations manifest in the recently renewed Partnership agreement between the Department and the Public Service Association is a good example.

This agreement formally establishes a framework for an industrial relationship where each can work to enhance their long term interests and where the old ‘them and us’ conflict is replaced by a recognised and shared common interest.

The protocol recognises the lessons leant by both parties in the first year of operation of the partnership model, and provides a framework of good faith for the future. The power of joint participation has been proven.

The Department has also embarked on a programme to strengthen the relationship with the Judiciary through the establishment of joint decision making bodies. This is underpinned by an enhanced recognition that court administration exists primarily to ensure efficient and effective support to judicial decision making.

This approach to relationships within the department accords with my own personal belief that by working together toward shared goals, in a culture of trust and respect, great things can be achieved.

Government recognises the need to invest in the court system, through the modernisation and enhancement of court services and the upgrading court buildings around the country.

It is estimated that each year around a million people come through our seventy-five court buildings throughout the country, for all sorts of reasons. Being the largest centre of population, this means hundreds of thousands of people coming through Auckland court buildings each year.

Our aim is to provide court facilities that meet the needs of local people. Well designed and modern courthouses mean a more friendly environment for the Judiciary, staff and court users alike, more efficient processing of cases, and better service for the community.

Having court facilities here in South Auckland that are responsive to community need extends beyond our investment in bricks and mortar. As I said earlier, strengthening the relationship between the court and the community is essential.

The South Auckland community is perhaps the most culturally diverse of any in New Zealand. This fact places a special responsibility on court administration to ensure that the new facility replacing this one properly reflects the community it serves.

The new Manukau District Court will be the first to formally involve the local community in the functioning of the courthouse through the newly established Courts Community Liaison Group.

The group comprises people and organisations with an interest in the work of the court.

The group will provide a direct link to local court management to ensure the good relations between the court and the community are further enhanced.

The group will help court management ensure that the administration of the court is relevant to local needs and sensitive to cultural needs.

The group allows early involvement of the community in decisions as the new courthouse moves into operation, and beyond as the court becomes a fully functioning part of the community and the new focus of the justice system in Counties Manukau.

Should this group prove successful in its aims, I can see such groups being established to support the work of other high volume courts around the country.

Manukau will also be the first court to establish a Youth Court Pacific Community Liaison Service.

This service will promote better links between the courts and the Pacific peoples’ communities and assist communities to understand and participate in court processes.

The new full-time position of Youth Court Pacific Community Liaison Officer has been established on the staff at Manukau.

The Youth Court Pacific Community Liaison Officer, with the aid of the Pacific Community Resource Panel made up of 8 members from the South Auckland community, will analyse the needs of Pacific peoples’ communities in relation to access to the Youth Court and their greater involvement in the Youth Court and will determine the best mechanisms to meet these needs.

This will include working with community groups and organisations to facilitate family and community participation in judicially ordered programmes and plans aimed at addressing youth offending.

I applaud these exciting new initiatives by the Department.

On Monday, the new Manukau District Court opens its door to the public. It is spacious, modern, safe and built to meet the future needs of this growing city.

I have the honour of officially opening the new courthouse in six weeks time on the 15th of December. That gala event will be followed by a series of open days designed to help the community to get to know the courthouse, the services it provides and the people who work there.

The pace of change in court administration is picking up. Innovations such as case management will transform court process. Reaching out to the community - involving the community in the administration of the court - strengthening the relationship between the court and the community - moving to ensure the court better reflects the community it serves - recognising the cultural needs of the community - these are all innovations that signal the transformation of the court into a very different place from that thirty years ago.

Today, we are here to say farewell to what has become, for some, a dear old friend. While we recognise its shortfalls, we cannot help but feel a tinge of nostalgia. Many people have passed through these doors over the last thirty years. The events that have taken place in this building have changed peoples lives, sometimes profoundly. It is right that we pause to consider the mana of this place.

Finally, I want to pay tribute to the staff and judges of this court. You have shown extraordinary patience. Moving a busy court such as this to new premises while at the same time maintaining a seamless, high quality service, is a tribute to your professionalism, your dedication and your commitment to the justice system. I thank you all.

No reira
Tena koutou
Tena koutou
Tena koutou katoa

ENDS

Word count: 1623 words
Delivery: 10 minutes

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