Facing the future - the opening of Manukau District CourtCourts
It's a great pleasure to be here to officially open the new Manukau District Court.
Although this court has been operating since the closure of the Otahuhu court at the end of October, I think it is important to come together and officially mark the transition with due ceremony.
The level of energy devoted to marking significant events is something that sets Manukau apart from other cities, and it's always good to be here with the communities I have worked alongside for so many years.
That 'Manukau difference' was demonstrated when I attended the closing ceremony at the old District Court at Otahuhu. I know Otahuhu hasn't yet become part of Manukau City, in spite of it 'facing south' in so many ways. But I'm sure Sir Barry will forgive me if I stretch the spirit of his city a little bit northwards.
The closure of the Otahuhu Court had a different flavour than I would expect in many other areas of the country.
On the day of the final sitting, the old number four courtroom, scene of so much human tragedy over the years, was filled with laughter and a few tears.
That courtroom contained a very powerful feeling of community, of coming together, of shared hope for the future, and of respect for many cultures.
Many of you were there and will have felt it too.
That 'difference' demonstrated the changes sweeping through our communities at an ever-increasing rate.
The opening of our society to the many different cultures now at home in New Zealand is most obvious here in Manukau, the "Face of the Future".
Institutions in Manukau City face great challenges and even greater opportunities meeting the needs of its diverse communities.
Those changes in our communities demand a new responsiveness from all of us, including Government.
And even in institutions of great formality and tradition, such as the courts, this change is happening.
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. Nurturing that link is essential if we believe in justice in a real sense.
This new court is a sign of the commitment of the justice system to meeting those needs.
Courts are often places fraught with the drama of life.
Many people come here in stressful, even traumatic circumstances. They may be unfamiliar with the formal workings of our legal system.
That can create a gulf between communities and the courts. Between people and a system which may hold elements of their lives in the balance.
Having court facilities here in Counties Manukau that are responsive to community need extends beyond our investment in bricks and mortar - magnificent as this place is. As I say, strengthening the relationship between the court and the community is essential.
The communities served by this court are the most culturally diverse in New Zealand. This places a special responsibility on court administrators to ensure that it properly reflects those communities.
The new Manukau District Court is the first to formally involve the local community in the functioning of the courthouse through the newly established Courts Community Liaison Committee. I see many of you here today.
This group comprises people and organisations with an interest in the work of the court.
The group provides a direct link to local court management to ensure the court administration is relevant to local needs and sensitive to cultural needs.
This group is proving successful, and 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 assist communities and families to better understand and participate in Youth Court processes.
A new full-time Manukau Youth Court Pacific Community Liaison Officer will be appointed soon.
The Liaison Officer, working with the Youth Court Pacific Community Resource Panel, will work out the best way to meet the needs of Pacific peoples' communities in relation to access to - and greater involvement in - the Youth Court.
The Liaison Officer will facilitate family and community participation in court-ordered plans, and look for local solutions to reduce Pacific youth re-offending.
Many of you are aware that Restorative Justice initiatives are being developed through our court system.
Getting people together to sort things out is something we do all the time. The South Pacific offers living examples of a system of justice that heals the victim and that both punishes and reintegrates the offender.
Maori families gather on marae to settle disputes, aiming to reach a solution that satisfies both sides.
Pacific Island families in New Zealand continue the tradition of what the Samoans call Ifoga [I-fo-nga], where representatives of the offender's family front up at the victim's family's home. The head of the family literally offers himself up for justice. He bows on the front lawn, head covered in a fine mat.
In the past few weeks I have received enthusiastic backing of Restorative Justice from Pacific Island and Maori players.
It is my hope that in the near future the Manukau Court will become part of the move to allow communities and victims to play a greater role in determining justice.
The new courthouse also symbolises the increasing sophistication of our society. Today, people are demanding much higher standards from a modern public service. We must develop our public institutions to support those demands.
The Labour Alliance Coalition Government is investing heavily to rebuild a largely neglected physical infrastructure. So many calls on the public purse means prioritising projects as funding allows.
We recognise the need to invest in the court system. In courts, we currently have underway projects costing over $22 million and there is another $18 million worth of projects competing for funding. This courthouse alone represents an investment of $23 million. The new North Shore District Court at Albany, construction of which started in August, represents a further $18 million.
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.
I would like to pay special thanks to the members of the Standing Committee on Courthouse Design, and in particular to the huge contribution of Justice Heron. As chair of the Standing Committee since its inception in July 1993, Justice Heron has guided the committee, which has now built up a great wealth of knowledge and experience about the very specialised job of designing courthouses.
This new courthouse is testimony to the Standing Committee and to Justice Heron, as this is the first courthouse where the Committee took responsibility for the design, including judicial features. Justice Heron has recently retired from the Committee, and I see his successor Justice Williams is with us today.
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.
But this state-of the-art courthouse is a symbol of the modernisation of our court system, and is part of a plan to
· modernise the court system,
· provide high quality service to the community
· and provide sophisticated support and research facilities to judges.
Modernising court registries is the next phase and involves introducing case management to the registries.
Case management will allow the courts system to take control of cases, 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,
· the staff knowledge and skills needed
· and the information technology tools required to support them.
We are now at the "Checkpoint" phase ensuring the range of initiatives taking place all fit together to achieve the end results. A business readiness model is being constructed to allow detailed analysis of any remaining issues.
Great care is being taken to ensure that changes will lead to real benefits for court users and the Judiciary without affecting the fairness of the process.
As Minister for Courts, I am determined to ensure we make real progress in bringing court administration into the 21st century. The next two years will be filled with challenge and achievement as the modernisation comes to fruition.
I said earlier that well designed and modern courthouses mean a friendlier environment for the Judiciary, staff and court users alike.
I want to pay a special tribute to the staff and judges of this court. For too long you worked with inadequate facilities at Otahuhu. This courthouse was a long time coming.
When it came time to move, you gave up your nights and weekends to pack up the old court at Otahuhu and shift thousands of files and all the other things that allow a court to run, and move it all here.
Over a weekend this courthouse was readied for court to start first thing on Monday. Everything went without a hitch.
I thank you for your dedication and your professionalism. I thank you for the contribution you make to the delivery of justice.
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 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
· 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.
I can think of no better metaphor for this transformation than the new Manukau District Court itself.
It gives me great pleasure to declare the Manukau District Court officially open.
Na reira e te iwi,
Tena koutou, tena koutou, tena tatou katoa.
Salutations to us all
Go in Peace.