New Zealand Law Society - Industrial action escalates at courts

Industrial action escalates at courts

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The process of justice at the Auckland and Manukau District Courts has been hit further with union members undertaking a ban on serving, checking and signing sentencing documents.

The ban by Public Service Association (PSA) members at those courts began on Tuesday and is due to continue until Friday, 7 December.

The ban means that paperwork for case files entering the courts will be stalled likely causing postponements and major delays.

It has led to the Chief District Court Judge Jan-Marie Doogue to warn that a prolonged dispute “places extra stress on the District Court when it is already under heavy workloads and intense pressure.”

Chief Judge Doogue has taken steps to protect the rights of people needing urgent access to justice during the industrial dispute which includes work to rule and lightning strikes.

In a related incident, a gang-related brawl broke out at the Christchurch District Court this morning.

An application to have a defendant attend court via Audio Visual Link (AVL) could not be made by a lawyer due to the action. The defendant was attacked by a number of people involved in the case. No one was injured.

Ministry 'minimising the impact' of action

Carl Crafar, Chief Operating Officer at the Ministry of Justice, says dozens of cases have had to be adjourned in the Auckland region, but the ministry is doing its best to minimise the impact of the industrial action on its customers and people.

“The impact of the industrial action is different from court to court. The strike action being undertaken at Manukau District Court around processing sentencing documents will impact on hearings. 25 cases have been adjourned at Manukau District Court for Thursday and a further 15 have been adjourned for Friday.

“We are working through the impacts and solutions with the judiciary and our justice sector partners.

“The ministry remains open and committed to reaching a negotiated settlement and we’re ready to meet with the PSA at any time.”

With no scheduled talks to try to resolve the dispute, work-to-rule measures are being added to almost daily with additional work stoppage bans.

These include stoppage bans – this time specific to Family Court Coordinators who belong to the PSA added yesterday (Wednesday):

* A ban on providing electronic remote cover for courts

* A ban on actions related to collecting data of the work on hand and the work completed each day

* A ban on using teleconference facilities

Union remains hopeful of breakthrough

"The PSA position is that the door on resuming bargaining towards reaching a settlement with the Ministry of Justice is wide open,” says Glenn Barclay, the PSA’s national secretary.

"What we have now though is a situation where we first need a meaningful, tangible, concrete sign of a movement in the position of the ministry since we last met.

"We haven’t received any assurance along those lines yet, but we are hopeful that our members are being listened to and that the ministry will come back to the table with a better offer.”

Canterbury Westland New Zealand Law Society President Grant Tyrrell says the industrial action is having consequences in Christchurch.

“It has had a massive impact here. It’s eight weeks in without any sign of being resolved, and in Christchurch it is certainly having a significant ongoing impact on the operation of the court which is affecting the people who use the court, all of whom have their own vulnerabilities. Huge chunks of court time has been lost. I can only encourage the parties to get round the table gain.”

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