Kiddies in Court

The Minister of Justice moved swiftly to change the rules on legal aid eligibility following Dame Margaret Bazley's report, but quick-as-a-flash, nothing's been done on her recommendation that creches be set up for kiddies in courts

For the past 17 months I've spent too many days hanging around district courts in Auckland and Lower Hutt as a defendant waiting for the square wheels of justice to slowly turn over. Because the district courts are there for the convenience of those who run them, not for the convenience of those who appear before them, all of us – plaintiffs, applicants, defendants – must appear at ten o'clock and wait patiently until our names are bellowed out over the intercom.

This entails giving up at least half a day to spend in a carpet-stained, hard-chaired, leaflet-lined, boring lobby.

I always took something to read, but usually found someone more interesting to talk to, or study, instead. Often it was another defendant, curious as to why this well-dressed, obviously middle-class woman was appearing month after month waiting for her case to be heard. Despite appearances – tats, "hey bro", Soledad pants, hoodies – there was no lack of intellect. Just education. Quelle surprise.

But the most distressing observation in our courts is seeing the little children being dragged along, day after day, week after week, nothing to do, exposed to the pain their parents are going through. Exposed, sometimes, to the violence which can take place outside the courthouse. Exposed to a world which is not the ideal place for children.

And when Dame Margaret Bazley was doing her report on legal aid, she was shocked, too, by what she saw, and went out of her way to speak out, and recommend a creche system be set up so these children can be looked after while their parents get on with the business of their cases of the day.

It's no use finger-pointing at the parents, and saying they should find someone to mind their kiddies before they come to court. That just ain't going to happen.

As Bazley said, some children are in danger of growing up thinking their address is the courthouse. Little children comforting their mothers while their fathers were sent to jail. Is this what we want in a civilised society? Is it too much to ask that the children can be placed in a safe, private place? We don't visit the sins of the parents on the children.

Surely, with some of the money we're saving with the reforms made to the legal aid service, we can provide a service to children at court by providing a creche service.

At least, in the beginning, a pilot service at one of our busiest District Courts? How about it, Simon Power?