New Zealand Law Society - Staying safe at Court

Staying safe at Court

The assault on a lawyer at Whangarei Court in early March has led to an increased focus on court security and the safety of people attending court, including lawyers.

General Manager of Health, Safety and Security at the Ministry of Justice Te Tāhū o te Ture Maeve Neilson oversees court security and heads up a 400-strong team across te motu. In addition to ensuring each location has policies and procedures to appropriately manage risks including on-site violence, Ms Neilson says there are a number of controls to prevent an incident, or mitigate the potential level of harm.

“Some of these controls will be obvious to you as they are things that you can see. This includes duress alarms, CCTV, security screening, and of course our Court Security tīma within the Health, Safety and Security rōpū.

“Screening of people entering Court forms an important part of the risk controls. Entrance screening applies to everyone, unless they are excluded formally by the Secretary for Justice. Those excluded are mainly members of the judiciary and Te Tāhū kaimahi.

“We often get questions on who we screen and why. We screen to detect an item that could be used as a weapon in the wrong hands,” Ms Neilson said.

“We are not making a judgment on the people we screen – more looking to ensure a potential weapon doesn’t enter the court and cause significant harm to anyone.”

In addition to visible measures such as screening, there are other less obvious measures taken to help ensure everyone is safe at court. “Some of our controls to prevent or mitigate harm are not so obvious. These include our Health, Safety and Security training, site security assessments, site safety plans and Standard Operating Procedures.”

Practical steps for lawyers

In addition, Ms Neilson adds that there are other practical options for lawyers concerned about their safety when working in ngā kōti.

“We run inductions at courts to allow you to be familiar with the safety and security protocols for that site. This includes duress alarm locations.

“You can also request a pendant alarm when needed for a hearing. There will be a member of staff that you can talk to if you need support or additional safety measures for a particular hearing. The site induction will provide you with all the contacts. The team can talk with you about alternative entrances and safe egress processes for a hearing that may have a level of tension or risk to it. Just reach out to one of the security team on site.”

Ms Neilson says that there is also a training programme for front line Te Tāhū kaimahi that has now been extended to the legal profession. Lawyers can sign up for Managing Threatening and Abusive Behaviours training. “This programme will teach you how to keep yourself safe, through de-escalation techniques, safe escape training and basic self-defence.” Find further details and register for a training course.

Top tips for court safety:

  • Ask for an induction visit at court so that you are familiar with all the safety and security measures. Take note of the location of the duress alarms.
  • Ask to borrow a pendant alarm if you are concerned about your safety during a hearing.
  • Know that court staff are there to help you if you have concerns. Let them know if you see anything that could become a safety risk.
  • Sign up for the Managing Threatening and Abusive Behaviour training programme.

If you have any pātai on how to keep yourself as safe and well as possible, please reach out to one of the Court Security team located within ngā kōti.