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Hefty fees prompt call for a Tweed District Court

Residents, lawyers and police have called for Tweed to have it's own District Court.
Residents, lawyers and police have called for Tweed to have it's own District Court.

Lawyers and police have backed the call for a District Court on the Tweed amid concerns residents have paid hundreds of dollars in extra legal fees to go to the Northern Rivers' only District court in Lismore.

Murwillumbah's Tom Smith (not real name) said trips to the court tipped his family over the edge financially, in what was already a harrowing time.

His toddler was alleged to be the victim of a crime, and every court appearance in Lismore cost him a three-hour round trip, a day off work, and an extra $400 a day in lawyer's fees.

He said there was no alternatives if he wanted to win custody of his child from the alleged abuser.

"For the DoCS (Department of Community Services) case I was at court every time. If you don't go, that judge won't see you fighting," he said, having won the case.

Tweed solicitor Russell Baxter is not Mr Smith's lawyer but said residents like him were denied their right to an equitable access of the justice system.

"Part of a society is the judicial system, and the judicial system must be seen to be part of that society," Mr Baxter said.

The District Court deals with matters like criminal offences (except murder), appeals against Local Court and Children's Court decisions, motor accidents and civil claims from $100,001-$750,000, personal injury and defamation.

"There should be a district court sitting as a circuit for Family Court, Land and Environment and Civil and Administrative Tribunal matters," Mr Baxter said.

Police have backed the call for their own reasons.

The Police Association's Brett Henderson said officers were pulled off the beat daily to transfer prisoners to Lismore for trial, and the Local Area Command foots the bill.

Tweed MP Geoff Provest said he had begun planning for it with the Attorney General.

Of Lismore's 724 District criminal matters lodged, Mr Provest said about half represented appeals from Tweed.

"But we're in caretaker mode now so that report (on the flow of cases from Tweed to Lismore) has to wait until the re-elected government," he said.

The Tweed Daily News accessed figures from the Attorney General's office which showed the Tweed Local Court had 2490 criminal matters lodged in 2013/14, up 18.6% on the previous financial year.

Some cases will flow to Lismore's District Court and the increasing demand, according to prominent Tweed lawyer Phillip Mulherin, is enough to utilise Murwillumbah court, already fitted with a jury box.

The Far North Coast Law Society's executive Sean Radburn supported Mr Mulherin's call, so the profession could "better serve their clients."



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