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Court security and searching of lawyers

10 May 2019

Recently after the Christchurch shooting, there have been changes to the searching of people entering the court.

Now lawyers must also be searched.

In no possible logic, can lawyers suddenly become a terrorist risk at court, because some lunatic shot a particular religious group in Christchurch.

The Law Society needs to stand up to the nonsense from the ministry and politicians and tell them it is stupid.

However, court and ministry staff, including Public Defence lawyers, do not get searched. Nor do judges.

We as lawyers are officers of the court, yet are treated now with disdain and little respect. We do not even have cards to enter courtrooms now, whilst many other organisations and staff do. They do not even have to pass the same ethical rules, nor character checks that we do. It is time for the Law Society to demand that lawyers be treated with respect. We queue up with clients and others at the counters, even if we have to rush to get matters dealt with in the courtrooms.

When will our Law Society stand up for our rights, and demand the respect our legal profession is due. Lots of nice friendly politically correct words to the ministry and politicians, and patting each other on the back, are not good enough.

Some of us have been coming to the same court, five days a week for many years. I was searched twice today, yet I have been coming to the Manukau District Court generally five days a week, almost every week of the year since it opened in about 2000, and prior to that daily at the Otahuhu District Court, since the early 90s.

If it is really about security, then court staff should be searched, just as guards are searched in prison, and also no one should be above the law. Neither the PDS nor judges.

If it is about identifying who is a lawyer or not, the court security know who they work with on a daily basis and the Law Society should issue a photo ID for all lawyers.

Ted Faleauto Johnston

Barrister, Manukau, Auckland

The Ministry of Justice was asked if it would like to respond to Mr Johnston’s letter. The following response was received from the ministry’s Chief Operating Officer Carl Crafer

Thank you for the opportunity to reply.

Following the tragic events in Christchurch, the national threat level which is set by a cluster of government security agencies was raised to HIGH and remains at that state today [It has since gone to MEDIUM]. This means that there is greater risk that an incident will occur than before 15 March 2019. The most obvious response to this assessment is the Police being routinely armed.

As a result of the national threat level being increased to HIGH, the ministry reviewed and raised our security setting level. This change in security level has resulted in a number of changes to court building security as well as changes made to other buildings the ministry occupies.

The most obvious change for lawyers is that they are now being asked to be screened.

As background, it has been the case since the introduction of the Court Security Act 1999 that every person who wishes to enter a courthouse is required to undergo security screening. The Court Security Act, section 13, provides Court Security Officers (CSOs) with the right to ask people to agree to an electronic search. Exceptions to this are outlined in section 24 of the Court Security Act, and include judges, judicial officers and court registrars/deputy registrars. I have extended that exemption to all MoJ staff.

Lawyers are not, and have never been, exempt from screening in courthouses. Court Security Officers in our courthouses have, however, over time, allowed a trusted group of individuals (including lawyers) who they are familiar with to enter our courthouses using what could be described as a “lighter touch” screening approach but that is entirely at their discretion and dependent on our current risk environment. This discretion has been removed temporarily due to the increase in threat level mentioned above.

For additional context, during screening over the last 18 months, we have identified and removed certain items from lawyers around the country that are either weapons or indeed offensive weapons under Police definitions. This has included live ammunition left in pockets or bags, hunting knives and the occasional gun inadvertently brought into the courthouse.

There has been an initial discussion between the Law Society and myself regarding ID cards for lawyers and that is something that can be looked at more fully in the future.

We are reviewing our security settings regularly and like all New Zealanders look forward to the national threat level being reduced.

Finally, I would like to thank the many members of the Law Society who have been accepting of the temporary change to settings due to the difficult environment we are in.

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Last updated on the 10th May 2019