Levin courthouse attack has lawyers on edge

The alleged attacker is set to appear before the Youth Court

Levin courthouse attack has lawyers on edge

A recent courthouse attack has lawyers on edge, according to New Zealand Law Society President Frazer Barton in an RNZ report.

Following the announcement of an investigation being conducted by justice officials into an incident that took place at the Levin courthouse in May, Barton called for a boost in safety measures within courthouses.

“Going to court can be stressful. Tensions are running high. If you put people into close proximity it can be explosive”, the Law Society president said in a statement published by RNZ.

Barton confirmed that meetings had been held with Ministry of Justice officials as well as with District Court head of bench Heemi Taumaunu in order to discuss proposals for improved security measures, such as courtroom redesigns, adding more security officers, and ensuring the availability of safe exits in interview rooms. He asserted that it was possible to make such modifications, given that courtrooms had undergone redesign approximately three decades ago.

“Our justice system does require physical appearances for people in courthouses, and the system's not going to work if people can't turn up safely and get home safely at the end of the day”, Barton said in a statement published by RNZ. “We're living in a day when people who are involved in the court process are going through particularly difficult times in their lives. There seems to be a greater fragility out there in society in general and, unfortunately, a greater willingness to resort to violence”.

Ministry deputy secretary for corporate service Kelvin Watson explained that the ministry was making improvements courthouse security through the dock upgrade programme, which he said “will improve security by creating greater separation between defendants and court participants while also installing enhanced audio communication systems to allow the defendant to participate more easily in proceedings”.

In March 2023, family lawyer Brintyn Smith was the target of a vicious attack in a lift at the Whangārei courthouse. Barton praised Smith for speaking out about the incident recently.

“As I travel round in my role meeting with practitioners from the top to the bottom of the country, they hear (about incidents) and it makes them quite nervous about going to court”, Barton said in a statement published by RNZ. “We've got security to get in the court complexes. You're not going to have guns or knives or anything like that but, I'm afraid, history shows us that people can do a lot of damage just with their bare fists”.

The alleged attacker in the Levin courthouse incident was apprehended by court security and arrested by police in short order, according to Ministry COO Carl Crafar. The offender is set to face the Youth Court.

The ministry has conducted incident cause analysis method investigations in relation to the incidents that occurred at the Whangārei Family Court, Napier High Court and Wellington High Court.

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