Ministry of Justice to strengthen security in response to courthouse incidents

In an investigation, the ministry uncovered gaps in effective response training and the safety of venues

Ministry of Justice to strengthen security in response to courthouse incidents

The Ministry of Justice is set to strengthen its security in response to two assault incidents that took place at Whangārei and Napier courthouses last year.

The ministry conducted reviews following the incidents to identify gaps in its security controls. In response to the findings, the ministry confirmed that the incidents had been factored into court security officers’ annual requalification course as teaching scenarios.

The first incident took place on 9 March 2023; before a Family Court representation, an attorney was heavily assaulted at the Whangārei courthouse. Following an incident cause analysis method (ICAM) investigation where input was obtained from the judiciary, court staff and those involved in the incident, the following factors were identified as having contributed to the incident:

  • inadequate awareness of standard operating procedures when it came to assessing and managing operational risks
  • insufficient and/or a breakdown of cross-sector information sharing that may have assisted in highlighting additional risk
  • lack of consistency in site security inductions provided to lawyers and judges
  • Inadequate physical security in the environment, such as separation of authorised access and public access areas and placement of duress alarms
  • infrequent scenario-based exercises to prepare for emergency responses

In the second incident, which occurred on 11 September 2023, a defendant was jumped by the supporters of a victim’s family and friends after they scaled the glazed partition dividing the public gallery from the courtroom body. The ICAM investigation revealed the following issues:

  • Limited co-ordinated and clear communication between internal business groups, the judiciary and sector partners.
  • Lack of awareness from registry and other justice sector staff on how to effectively respond to emergency incidents
  • The furniture was no longer secured to the floor within the dock – a property issue that had not been highlighted and escalated for remediation within a reasonable timeframe
  • The judiciary, counsel and others had not received site security inductions.
  • The glazed partition between the dock and the public gallery was too low to prevent access to the body of the court

A “use of force” panel was introduced with senior justice sector partners to facilitate the appropriate and proportionate application of force in such incidents. Regional security managers also coordinated with local court security managers to evaluate court security patrols across all sites.

Justice Sector Memorandums of Understanding (MOUs) are being used to bolster end-to-end processes of sharing information. The Ministry of Justice is also working together with Hawkes Bay sector partners to craft an information-sharing action plan to be implemented across the country.

This month, the ministry will commence a health, safety and security-centred MOU, working together with the judiciary. In addition, the ministry has overhauled the current site security induction programme for tailoring to specific sites, with a health, safety and security induction package for judges to be introduced in all sites.

The ministry is also examining training for court security and site managers. Moreover, it is introducing a novel Government Security Classification System Policy as a response to recommendations from the Royal Commission of Inquiry following the terrorist attack on Christchurch masjidian, The completion of this policy revision is targeted for the second quarter of the year. The ministry also introduced new Coordinated Incident Management System (CIMS) training for site managers over the first quarter of the year.

Following the incident at the Napier courthouse, the site has been re-priortised by the ministry’s property team for remediation set to complete this month. All other sites are scheduled for completion by 2028.

The ministry also commenced a site security assessment programme across New Zealand, led by the resilience and assurance team. The programme will identify shortfalls in physical security based on the New Zealand Government Protective Security Requirements. The priority list for sites will be determined in accordance with risk.

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