Justice feels the pinch

Albury Court House is part of a system that lawyers say is being hit adversely by cuts.
Albury Court House is part of a system that lawyers say is being hit adversely by cuts.

NSW government cutbacks will see fewer magistrates along with the loss of 100 jobs in the Attorney-General’s Department.

The NSW Law Society said court jobs in the Riverina, including Albury, could be in jeopardy.

However, at present there is no suggestion of closures on the Albury circuit.

Law Society spokesman Jacob O’Shaughnessy said the government has cut $14.6 million to the local court and children’s court system.

He said the number of magistrates in the state (132) would be reduced by eight with sittings in suburban and regional courts suspended over the next three years.

Magistrate Tony Murray presides in Albury most of the time, but has circuit courts at Tumbarumba, Holbrook, Corowa and Finley.

“Local courts represent the coalface of our judicial system, playing an important role dealing with criminal offences and private or civil law issues such as property and motor vehicle disputes,” Mr O’Shaughnessy said.

“These local court closures now mean that witnesses and victims will have to travel further to see justice being done while the remaining courts will struggle to clear the increased work load.

“I feel strongly that local communities must have access to justice, particularly at the local court level.”

Sittings at some Sydney courts have been suspended and transferred with other closures pending.

Mr O’Shaughnessy said the government was “beefing up” police powers while cutting back on the judicial system, at a time when more than 10,000 people were in custody and many more awaiting a hearing.

“The old adage that springs to mind is justice delayed is justice denied,” he said.

“The decline in magistrate numbers and support staff is likely to see magistrates under pressure to perform within fixed time frames.

“But the lack of Legal Aid support for all but the most serious matters is likely to see more people representing themselves, adding to general delays.”

The Law Society wants the cuts reversed.