OPEN briefly on Thursday morning, Opotiki District Court’s doors closed for the rest of the day. Photo supplied

OPOTIKI District Court staff were on strike last Thursday, remanding all cases to the next scheduled court sitting on December 13.

Ministry of Justice staff around the country began striking on September 19 but this was the first time it had affected the fortnightly Opotiki Court sittings.

The strike action is now entering its second month, in spite of a judge ordering the ministry and the Public Service Association to attend mediation.

While members nationwide are undertaking lightning strikes, staff at the Opotiki and Whakatane district courts are continuing their work to rule action.

The court staff have been working to rule since the beginning of the strike and have now also declined to be involved in certain activities such as sentencing, collection tasks and work involving audio visual links (AVL).

This means there have been delays in getting paperwork done and judges are having to prioritise those in custody who may get bailed over those with scheduled hearings.

New Zealand’s chief district court judge, Judge Jan-Marie Doogue has asked judges to place on the court record whenever a case is deferred or adjourned because of the dispute, to enable more accurate assessment of its impact.

“Already we have had hearings either deferred or becoming drawn out because of the industrial action,” said Ms Doogue.

“Uncertainty and delay are hard on everyone involved … judges rely heavily on court staff and their employer, the Ministry of Justice, for the district court to run efficiently.

“It is a challenging and dynamic environment at the best of times and a prolonged dispute places extra stress on the district court when it is already under heavy workloads and intense pressure.”

In spite of the delay in paperwork, the closed office and some delays in hearings, the ministry’s chief operating officer Carl Crafer said Whakatane District Court had not received any complaints.

“The impact of the industrial action varies from court to court and the ministry’s focus has been on managing our operations so that court services continue to run as smoothly as possible,” he said.

Ministry of Justice staff were previously asking for a 15 per cent pay rise but have now dropped that demand to 11 per cent over two years. The ministry is offering 5 per cent over two years.