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Court of contempt

The former employees said “at least a dozen staff” had left since 2011, and the loss had far-reaching consequences for those entangled in the justice system. PHOTO/STOCK.ADOBE.COM

Former employees blow the whistle on the ministry
‘It felt like bullying’

Former Masterton District Court employees have accused the Ministry of Justice [MoJ] of failing in their duty of care to court staff, stakeholders, and people in custody, by ignoring complaints of court mismanagement.

They claim years of flagging poor management and a “dangerous” and “toxic” work environment have fallen on deaf ears, and it has cost staff their mental health and others their freedom.

Ex-registry staff said the MoJ’s sudden intervention in court operations, reported by the Times-Age [Thursday, March 18], was long overdue. Regular meetings with upper management have been met with lip service.

The former registrars said Masterton District Court used to operate “like clockwork” and was renowned for having quality staff. However, in the past 10 years, there has been an exodus culminating in the court’s present staffing crisis.

They blamed a restructure and new court management for creating a “toxic” and “dangerous” environment where staff were micromanaged and pitted against each other.

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“Some of the stuff the manager would do was dangerous to your mental health. It felt like bullying. Management would divide and conquer. They are [now] seriously understaffed, and the depth of knowledge has left.”

The former employees said “at least a dozen staff” had left since 2011, and the loss had far-reaching consequences for those entangled in the justice system.

“Registrars are admin extraordinaries. There is a lot going on behind the scenes. Prepping all the case files, sentencing notes, organising psych reports.

“In court, the judge is constantly asking you questions. But when you’re under the pump, and there is not enough knowledge and experience, it costs people their freedom.”

They said the volume of work continued to increase, but regular meetings with upper MoJ staff about the problems led nowhere.

“We had at least one nasty meeting a year with the regional [MoJ] manager about the way the court was being run. You are fighting the manager and their manager. You’re fighting the PSA [Public Sector Association]. It went right up the ladder with no help whatsoever.”

The ex-staff members said that despite loving the job, they ultimately had to leave, citing anxiety “through the roof”.

“It was toxic. I’d had a gutful. From what I hear, it is still very much the same. Nobody has listened.”

A court stakeholder said there was an “epidemic” at Masterton District Court with the most basic requests unable to be met.

However, the MoJ had so far responded with apathy.

“The number of times reports have not been done, and things are not on the file … it’s more often than not. The wheels have fallen off.”

The Ministry of Justice and its southern regional manager John Houghton were approached for comment but had not responded at time of publication.

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