Law Society of NSW President Juliana Warner has highlighted the pressing need for a full-time magistrate at Port Kembla Local Court during a visit to the region on Wednesday.
Ms Warner said a part-time magistrate sitting one day a week was not sufficient for the sheer volume of criminal and civil cases dealt with at the court, and it was leading to lengthy delays for those in the system.
"Port Kembla Local Court deals with thousands of cases each year," she said. "For example, in 2019, it had 3095 new general criminal matters and 3168 finalised criminal matters.
"On some listing days, there's around 200 matters listed which is a really heavy workload. As a result the hearing dates are getting stretched out to up to six months.
"We know any exposure to the criminal justice system is deeply stressful, and the more efficiently and quickly matters can be dealt with, the better for everyone - the victim, the defendant, the legal professionals and the court staff."
Ms Warner said Port Kembla Local Court did have a specialised children's court magistrate who sat on certain days. However a full-time local court magistrate would speed up other matters, and also ease the pressure on Wollongong Local Court.
Ms Warner met with Wollongong solicitors and visited local courts and legal support services as part of an extended regional tour.
She said the NSW Government's 2020-21 Budget had included funds for court infrastructure, but said investment was needed in people too.
The Local Court cleared some 78,000 civil cases and more than 346,000 criminal cases across the state each year, she added.
In 2019, NSW had 139 magistrates who presided in the Local Court and Children's Court. As of February 2021, that number had increased by just one magistrate to 140.
"Local courts are state funded and while the NSW Attorney-General is sympathetic to the needs, and the government is investing in court infrastructure and technology, it's resources of the human kind that are required," she said.
"We think that there's a need for another 10 magistrates in areas across NSW, as well as those who are retiring who need to be replaced.
"The Local Court is the busiest jurisdiction of all and it handles 98 per cent of criminal and 90 per cent of civil cases."
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said the government was committed to appropriate resourcing of the Local Court "to enable it to continue its crucial work".
"The NSW Local Court is the busiest and most efficient court in Australia," he said. "Every day its hardworking magistrates deal with some of the worst examples of human conduct imaginable."
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