Extra court days a bittersweet victory
MURWILLUMBAH Local Court will have extra sitting days reinstated from next year following community campaigning by the region’s lawyers, but the win will hurt other local courts on the Northern Rivers court circuit.
A spokesperson for the NSW Justice office confirmed the Chief Magistrate would allocate extra sitting days at Murwillumbah in early 2016 to deal with the heavy workload since cuts came into effect on August 25.
The cuts resulted in a 66% reduction in court list days and a 50% reduction in defendant hearing days.
This is despite data accessed by the Tweed Daily News which showed a consistent increasing demand for services at Murwillumbah. In 2012 there were 730 matters heard but in 2014 there were 753.
Although the Justice spokesperson could not confirm it, Kylie Rose – a duty lawyer campaigning for court days to be reinstated – said two extra court sitting days would be allocated, one in January and one in March, to ease the burden.
But those days would be taken from Byron and Mullumbimby courts, respectively.
“I am cautiously optimistic about the impact of extra court sitting days,” Ms Rose said.
“It could be a huge relief for the duty lawyers and court staff, but we need more days re-instated.
“The fact that the powers that be have acknowledged this problem was a huge win for the local community. But the State Government has not approved additional resources for the reallo- cation of those days and this change will be a detriment to other courts in our circuit.”
Ms Rose has previously called for extra State Government funding to be targeted at the court.
“While the State Government has been inefficient in delivering justice, we’ve shown that we’re willing to fight for these services,” she said.
Lismore MP Thomas George declined to comment for this story.
Kaela Clifford, of Egan Simpson Solicitors, backed her colleague, saying people who wanted to defend themselves in court had already had their court matter put forward to June.
At the most recent hearing, 93 adults and six children were rushed through court in one day – triple the caseload prior to the cuts, leaving residents distressed.
“With AVO clients there is already a great deal of fear; it’s taken them a lot to get to court,” Ms Clifford said.
“They’re scared and for many it’s their first time in court. To wait another six months leads to a high level of anxiety. There’s no closure for those seeking a penalty and no conclusion to matters for the offenders.”