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Opening of the refurbished Dargaville Court

Hon Rick Barker Speech
Opening of the refurbished Dargaville District Court

Mihi

E ngä rangatira me ngä iwi, Te iti, te rahi, te katoa Tënä koutou

[My sincere greetings of welcome to everyone present here today. The people and their respective leaders and representatives, from the honourable dignitaries to the humble workers, once, twice, thrice welcome.]

E ngä mate huhua. Moe wairua, moe marie nui. Otia te po, nau mai te ao.

[My humble respects also to the dearly departed. May they rest in peace. May their souls and the souls of all the dearly departed rest in peace.]

Mayor Ramsey and Kaipara District Councillors, Judge Tompkins and Judicial Officers, Mr Bloore and members of the legal profession Belinda Clark and representatives of the justice sector, Hon Matt Robson, guests.

Today has certainly been a long time coming.

Looking through the very large files on this courthouse, it is clear that the inadequacies of this facility have been known for many years.

This courthouse was built in 1877, making it the third oldest courthouse still in use in the country - the oldest being the Auckland High Court built ten years before, in 1867.

A book commemorating the jubilee of the Borough of Dargaville in 1958 says "the early settlers of Dargaville were in no doubt of the importance of the rule of law to a community and they regarded the establishment of a Courthouse in their district as a symbol of this importance."

It seems that commitment to justice at the local level is as alive today as it was over one hundred years ago.

In 1872, Thomas Webb of Aratapu wrote to the Government urging the building of a Courthouse.

He reported that the population 'on the river' consisted of 35 families of settlers, 200 mill hands, about 300 gum-diggers and 300 Mäori.

To illustrate the 'lawless' state of the district, Webb told the story of a destitute gum-digger who was set up by a local storekeeper with food, clothing and tools.

Having dug a quantity of gum, he sold it to another storekeeper, intending to make off with the money.

The first storekeeper, learning of the plan, took two men and a revolver, confronted the gum-digger, and took the money and his swag as payment for the debt.

Continued representations to the Minister of Justice paid off when in 1877 tenders were called for the building of a courthouse at Kaihu, now Dargaville.

The building was completed the same year, and in October 1877 was placed in the charge of the local police constable.

In 1887, Constable Neil McLeod was formally appointed Clerk of the Magistrates Court at Dargaville.

Magistrates from Auckland and local Justices of the Peace presided over hearings, until a resident Magistrate was appointed to Whangarei in 1929, about the same time as the first civilian Clerk of the Court was appointed.

Additions were made to the courthouse in 1906 and in 1937 to incorporate a law library, Judge's Chambers, a storeroom and administration area.

The courthouse remained largely as it was in 1937, until now.

The refurbishment project symbolises the increasing sophistication of our society. Today, people are demanding much higher standards from a modern public service.

The Government understands the need to develop our public institutions to support those demands and is investing heavily to rebuild a largely neglected physical infrastructure.

The initial proposal, announced in March 2001 by my colleague Matt Robson, the former Minster for Courts, envisaged a completely new building on this site.

But consultation with local people showed a strong resolve to keep the original building and expand it to meet today's needs.

So the plans were changed and the new project focussed on reflecting the heritage of the old courthouse in the refurbishment.

I think you will all agree that the builders - John and Diane Hastings and their team - and the architect - Paris Magdelinos - have done a wonderful job. As I have mentioned earlier, it is almost a tradition for the Dargaville community to lobby Ministers for better justice services.

I want to acknowledge the support, and persistence, of Mayor Graeme Ramsey, the Kaipara District Council, and the Mayor's courthouse advisory group.

I also want to acknowledge the support of local Justices of the Peace and Judge Tompkins.

And I want to acknowledge the work of Te Tai Tokerau MP the Hon Dover Samuels, Northland MP John Carter, and former Courts Minister the Hon Matt Robson.

Together, you put up a formidable case for the preservation and refurbishment of this grand old building and for keeping local justice services in your community.

This day really belongs to you.

You now have a courthouse nearly double in size, with: · a large waiting area - no more standing outside; · separate modern toilets - no more staff and public sharing ablutions; · a public counter that allows people to conduct their business in private · a state of the art security system · secure cell area and secure sally port for the transfer of prisoners - some will remember to old hurricane wire lock-up? · proper interview rooms and secure witness rooms · an administration area that is light, open and modern - giving Beverly and Karen a much better work environment; · and a climate control system to deal with those long hot Northland summer days.

A full range of hearings will be held here - Family, Civil, Disputes Tribunal, Criminal Summary, Youth, and Preliminary Hearings.

Only those hearings identified as posing a serious security risk, and jury trials, will be held in Whangarei. This is a facility the community, the Judiciary and court users alike can be truly proud of.

As Thomas Webb wrote back in 1872, a courthouse symbolizes the importance of the rule of law to a community. This courthouse also symbolizes the strength of this community's commitment to the delivery of justice services at the local level.

And it symbolizes this government's determination to invest in better services for smaller communities.

It gives me great pleasure to declare the refurbished Dargaville courthouse officially open.

ENDS

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