Court cutbacks ‘unviable’ for regions: Chief Magistrate
LOCAL Courts across NSW are doing more with less as case loads continue to increase despite the loss of six magistrates in two years.
NSW Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson said the court had still met its time standards for the 15th year in a row with the release of its 2014 annual review.
"Despite a reported drop in the crime rate, the criminal case load of the court increased by some 14,000 matters," he said.
The report reveals courts in Coffs Harbour, Casino, Lismore and Tweed Heads had the biggest workload increases, while Grafton bucked the trend to shave its number of cases by about 200 from 2013 to 2014.
Almost 290,000 new criminal cases began last year across the state, an increase of 4.55% on 2013.
They included a worrying surge in final domestic violence orders from 23,177 in 2013 to 24,293 in 2014.
The rise was offset somewhat by a drop in personal violence orders from 5150 to 4724.
The review found 98.5% of criminal matters were finalised within the first 12 months.
"Such productivity reflects great credit on the magistrates and court staff who have worked tirelessly to manage an expanding criminal case load," Judge Henson said.
While regional magistrates have so far managed to stay abreast of their growing duties, Judge Henson warned the shift was unsustainable.
"The Local Court of NSW already has the lowest ratio of magistrates to population in the Commonwealth," he said.
"Continually lowering the resources provided will inevitably lead to a loss of capacity to provide the same level of access to justice as is current.
"When this occurs, the court may have no alternative than to manage the outcome through a reduction in attendance at some of the smaller courts in country locations, and to do so in a way that is likely to make the current practice of locating the headquarters of a magistrate in the country no longer cost-effective or geographically viable.
"Should that come to pass, the social cost in providing a lesser service may well exceed the purported cost savings to government through a short-sighted reduction in judicial numbers."
- APN NEWSDESK
Number of new criminal matters