Upton accuses Labor of scare tactics over court closures

NSW Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton has accused Labor of a headline-grabbing scare campaign over regional court closures and cutbacks but she has not ruled them out.

The Opposition jumped on Chief Magistrate Graeme Henson's parting comments in the 2014 annual review of the NSW Local Court released last month.

He warned the state already had the country's lowest ratio of magistrates to population and would be unable to maintain its current level of access to justice without extra resources.

"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," he cautioned.

Shadow attorney-general Paul Lynch said there would be eight fewer magistrates in NSW by the end of the year.

"Despite having caused this problem, Ms Upton has refused to reveal which courts will close and which will have services reduced," Mr Lynch said.

"Despite being directly asked, she refused to provide the list."

"An axe now hangs over regional local courts from Lithgow to Grafton, from Bega to Cobar, from Griffith to Ballina."

Ms Upton said the placement of magistrates was not the government's decision, even if funding cuts may have caused fewer to be on the roster.

"The Chief Magistrate, not the government, has responsibility for reviewing the sitting and circuit arrangements of the Local Court annually and monitors demand," she said.

"This is a pathetic and deceptive attempt by the shadow attorney-general to score a quick headline."

The annual review found the NSW Local Court continued to lead the country in keeping down caseload backlogs, despite the loss of six magistrates in two years.

Ms Upton said courts in the Northern Rivers, Mid North Coast and Hunter Regions would share in $12 million over four years to support the increased work of the Children's Court.

"This funding will be used for additional children's magistrates, more children's registrars and to enhance the court's case management system," she said.

"To further support the Local Court, the 2015-16 NSW Budget provides more money to build new and improving existing courts across NSW including in regional areas like Wagga Wagga."

She said work was also underway to trial the use of an online Local Court for civil matters, and to install audio-visual link conferencing in more locations "to make justice more accessible for people in remote and regional areas".

Those technologies may become a larger part of the NSW justice system if country courts are closed or have their services diminished.

-APN NEWSDESK



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