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Reopening of Taupo District Court Speech notes

Reopening of Taupo District Court Speech notes for official opening the refurbished Taupo courthouse. Taupo District Courthouse. Story Place, Taupo.

Kia ora koutou.

I’m pleased to be here at the opening of the newly refurbished and improved Taupo courthouse, a building that has undergone a complete makeover, over the course of a year. The result is a very sharp, modern courthouse that makes the best use of the space available to support the functions of the court.

This building started life as a regional court built in the sixties when cases were probably few and far between. It was refurbished thirty years later in 1993 but as the years have gone on the courthouse has struggled to meet the demands of a busy and varied workload.

A needs analysis was conducted in 2004 to determine the requirements of the courthouse and scope the planned general refurbishment work. This resulted in the project being orientated towards producing a better environment for court users and a much-improved workspace for the court staff.

And what a transformation it has been. The building has undergone a huge change and is largely unrecognisable as the former courthouse. I believe the only structural areas remaining from the original courthouse are the courtroom itself and the strong room.

Today the court boasts new judges’ chambers, a separate hearing room, increased administrative capacity, improved counter operations for civil, family, criminal and collections, new secure and public interview areas and increased secure parking facilities.

The new hearing room is especially welcomed. Today’s court needs to be able to accommodate a wide range of cases, from environment to Maori land court and all the types of tribunals in between. Previously there was limited space and scheduling for all these different purposes had become a challenge.

The new hearing room is multipurpose and will allow the court manager more flexibility when it comes to the scheduling of cases, which should add up to providing a better service to court users, something we are continually striving for.

Another particular concern in the old building was the public waiting space, which was woefully inadequate, with court users and the public often having to wait outside the building when the weather permitted. When the weather was bad, waiting facilities became very cramped which increased the stress levels for both staff and the public.

Where once we could fit six people at a squeeze, we now have a foyer area that can comfortably cater for around 20 people.

As part of the work there is also greatly improved accessibility for court users with a disability.

I am always very aware of the need for good security systems in our courts and I’m happy to say this facility has a new, integrated security access system and enhanced sallyport security which will ensure the safety of staff and visitors to the court.

Upgrading staff facilities was also a priority for this project. Working in a court is a demanding job with unique stresses and challenges. I understand it was difficult to take a relaxing break in the space available a year or so ago, and so the redesign has included a separate staff room with a deck which should get a lot of use in the lovely Taupo summer.

And where staff had to walk through the judges’ office to get to work each day, they now have a separate entrance with associated security.

The completion of this refurbishment and extension project is the latest step in a major building programme being carried out by the Ministry of Justice. Nationwide we have completed five new courthouses and 28 major courthouse refurbishments in the last six years. A further two new courthouses are currently being planned and eight more major refurbishments are either planned or underway.

As well as bricks and mortar, we are investing in our staff, the most critical factor to the success of our courts. Staff numbers have been increased in the busiest courts and new training resources have been launched to build capability and ensure nationwide consistency.

Within the court system we have applied the latest technology to evidence recording and transcription services. The National Transcription Service, launched in July this year, makes use of digital technology in courtrooms. It will improve evidence recording and transcribing and introduces consistency in the way transcription services are managed in courts across the country.

Videoconferencing is another example of investment in technology within the court system. Seven courts now have videoconferencing facilities, this increases the public's access to justice and saves judicial and staff resources.

Access to court information has improved with Judicial Decisions Online and Maori Land Online, the Courts of New Zealand web-site and the electronic posting of daily court lists for Higher Courts.

The electronic filing of unpaid infringement notices will have a positive impact on the efficiency of the courts as well as on the environment, by reducing the amount of paper used within the court system. It is a cost-effective solution based on sustainable practice.

Work has also been focussed on the operational efficiencies within the court system. We are a large organisation doing a tremendous variety of work across geographically dispersed locations, and all these factors bring with them their own set of challenges.

Resource management models for both staff and judiciary have been introduced to more effectively manage the spread of people across the courts, so we have the right number of people in the right places at the right time.

New caseflow management and rostering and scheduling tools have been developed to better manage the workload of the court.

A significant amount of work is also going into the training and upskilling of staff, along with the development of practice manuals to ensure consistency throughout the court system.

It is an exciting time for courts and I am pleased with the direction we are heading in. We are delivering a first class service that supports the needs of our families and communities now and into the future.

Courthouses are recognised within the community as symbols of civic duty, and the newly refurbished courthouse in Taupo is a fine example of this sentiment.

And now it gives me great pleasure to officially open the refurbished Taupo courthouse.

ENDS

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