M’bah court cut chaos goes on
ANYONE walking past Murwillumbah Local Court last Tuesday could testify to the chaos outside.
Dozens of residents on drug charges, drink-driving offences and domestic violence matters crammed nervously on the front lawn and piled onto Main Street benches.
As the day progressively warmed, the clerk continued shouting surnames into the street.
The stress outside was symptomatic of the chaos inside, according to duty lawyers, who rushed through more than 100 matters that day, blaming court cuts in 2014 for the high volume.
Criminal lawyer Kylie Rose said the NSW Chief Justice’s office had promised extra sitting days but they had not materialised in February. Ms Rose has led a campaign for extra sitting days since August.
An extra sitting day was scheduled on January 25, after lawyers complained to NSW Justice they were stretched to over three times the volume of cases in one day, compared to before the cuts.
But no extra sitting days were added in February, leaving some behind bars for an extra month.
“There are clients who pleaded not guilty and were refused bail waiting in jail for their hearing,” Ms Rose said.
“Some of them, instead of proceeding with a strong not guilty plea, changed their plea to guilty.
“This can happen to kids as well; you’ve got kids in there while the wheels of justice turn really slowly because of the lack of sitting days.”
The Chief Magistrate said another additional sitting day was listed for Friday, March 4.
But Ms Rose said lawyers were calling for at least one day per month to be reinstated.
“The court is doing its absolute best to make sure justice is being served but they need to work within the resources they’ve been allocated,” she said.
Meanwhile, lawyers welcomed a one-off addition of a half day for defenders at Murwillumbah on Monday but were still concerned.
“If you’re a woman in Murwillumbah who was a victim of domestic violence over the weekend, your application for an apprehended domestic violence order wouldn’t have ordinarily been heard until March 30,” Ms Rose said.
“Before cuts, the longest she could go without protection was a week, now she can wait in excess of six.”