Court out of order: death of Murwillumbah by a thousand cuts
TWEED lawyers and the shire mayor have slammed cuts to the Murwillumbah Local Court's sitting days.
They will mean a 66% reduction in court list days and a 50% reduction in defendant hearing days.
It's the latest blow in a series of state funding cuts to the town, according to lawyers and Mayor Gary Bagnall, who are calling for magistrate time to be re-instated.
NSW Justice said the cuts had come as a result of changes to the circuit, which also includes Tweed Heads, Byron Bay and Mullumbimby courts.
From August 25 the Tweed Local Court will get extra Magistrate sitting days; the circuit will benefit from extra Children's Magistrate sitting days, while Murwillumbah is left short-changed.
Data accessed by the Tweed Daily News showed the cuts come despite a consistent demand in services at Murwillumbah Local Court.
"The number of people seeking access to the local court has not decreased, therefore any cuts (are) not justified," said criminal lawyer Kylie Rose.
Duty criminal lawyer Carl Edwards said the changes were akin to "re-arranging deck chairs on the Titanic".
"They're taking resources from one place and putting it into another without resolving the actual problem, which is lack of resources," he said.
"Poor old Murwillumbah; it's a bit like the hospital - they've decided that Murwillumbah is a bit of a backwater."
Ms Rose estimated almost double the current number of offenders would need to go through court in one day.
The added workload will stress lawyers, Legal Aid clients and delay justice for domestic violence victims, she said.
NSW Justice said Murwillumbah Roads and Maritime prosecutions would be listed at Tweed Heads to ease the burden.
But North Coast Law Society's Cameron Bell said there was limited public transport to get to Tweed Heads. Minors will also be disadvantaged, he said.
"When the Children's Court is shoved into a day list with many adults, it means the Children's Court won't get the time considerations that it needs."
Cr Bagnall spoke out against cuts to Murwill-umbah's services at the hospital birthing unit rally, and wrote to Lismore MP Thomas George in January over the cuts to the court registry.
He is disappointed the registry has not been re-opened full-time, and is still only three days a week.
"I don't believe the reason Thomas George gave me regarding the reduction of days and I am sure I won't believe what they tell me about the cut to the court days," he said.
Richmond MP Justine Elliot said: "We've already seen the National Party cuts to heath and hospital services at Murwillumbah and now it's the court-house."
Mr George said he had made representations to the Attorney General (AG) regarding the cutbacks.
"The services are decided ... by the Chief Magistrate's office, and I have made representations to the (AG) and the Chief Magistrate about the concerns," he said.
NSW Justice said the Chief Magistrate's office will monitor the situation.
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