By Alex Tarrant
Labour’s Justice spokesman and list MP Charles Chauvel, fresh from not winning the Ohariu electorate seat from United Future leader Peter Dunne, has called for tempororary courts to be opened in locations the Ministry of Justice has closed courts due to earthquake risks.
He has every right to call for this.
However, he has set himself up as a great argument for keeping Peter Dunne, with a spectacular press release attacking the decision to close what are considered as earthquake-prone buildings.
Radio New Zealand this morning reported six district court buildings had been closed at short notice following engineering assessments which showed earthquake strengthening work was needed.
The acting deputy secretary for courts, Robert Pigou, told Morning Report that work had begun on transferring some court services.
Law Society president Jonathan Temm said venues such as golf clubs or marae needed to be sourced so these courts could carry out their usual business.
Fair enough. It sounds like these courts are already very busy, and we should expect the ministry to do everything to keep things going as normal.
Later in the day, Chauvel put out his two cents worth. One would expect him to demand temporary facilities were opened in these places so court work could carry on as normal. Chauvel in fact does demand this. But it's what else he says is shocking. Here's the full release:
The Ministry of Justice’s sudden closure of six of its district courthouses because of earthquake risk has come at the worst possible time and will cause unnecessary pressure and hardship for thousands of people, Labour’s Justice Spokesperson Charles Chauvel says.
Court buildings in Balclutha, Oamaru, Rangiora, Upper Hutt, Masterton, and Fielding have been closed from today, with Dunedin courthouse expected to be next.
"Everyone understands that earthquake risk needs to be taken seriously, and if assessments show that some of our courthouses are not up to scratch, then we need to remedy the problem.
"But the solution is not to shut 20 per cent of New Zealand's court capacity overnight as we approach the busiest time of the judicial calendar,” Charles Chauvel said.
“The speedy administration of justice, already a shaky proposition at the best of times, will be prejudiced. Trials may fall over. Victims of crime may be forced to wait longer for their cases to be heard and thousands of people will be forced to travel elsewhere for relocated hearings.
"These buildings must have been considered safe last week, and the week before. The acting deputy secretary of courts says there is ‘no imminent danger’. Instead of this knee-jerk reaction, a proper risk assessment should apply.
“The courtrooms in these courthouses will be scheduled for skeleton sittings over those three or four weeks. The likelihood of a major quake in most of the affected locations between now and Christmas is low.
"Either the courts should reopen immediately and priority remedial work scheduled over the December/January period, or temporary courts need to be opened in risk locations, now.
"John Key needs to appoint someone at ministerial level to take charge at the Ministry of Justice. Clearly, no-one is thinking right now of the interests of a New Zealanders in the justice system,” Charles Chauvel said.
The second part of the second to last paragraph was what was needed: "temporary courts need to be opened in risk locations, now". I reckon that would have been quite an ample demand from an opposition.
So what about the rest of the release?
"These buildings must have been considered safe last week, and the week before. The acting deputy secretary of courts says there is ‘no imminent danger’. Instead of this knee-jerk reaction, a proper risk assessment should apply."
Has Chauvel not been reading the papers? The PGC building in Christchurch was considered safe right up until the February earthquake which made the building collapse. It had a number of assesments, and while workers in the building expressed concern, the building was considered safe - there was no imminent danger. This is of course something we now know was completely wrong. How Chauvel can think this can't happen with other buildings, which have had assesments showing they need strengthening, I don't know.
"The likelihood of a major quake in most of the affected locations between now and Christmas is low."
Really? No one was considering there would be a massive earthquake in Christchurch before September 4 last year, and look what happened. Perhaps he's been on the phone to Ken Ring?
"John Key needs to appoint someone at ministerial level to take charge at the Ministry of Justice. Clearly, no-one is thinking right now of the interests of a New Zealanders in the justice system,”
Whoa. Big call. A Minister heading the Ministry of Justice? Chauvel's putting himself out there with that one [/sarcasm off].
What's he going to do when the Prime Minister appoints his cabinet? Claim the appointment of a Justice Minister as a victory for Labour?