FIFO magistrates to stay
The Department of the Attorney General says there are no plans to introduce a full-time magistrate at Karratha Magistrate’s Court, despite more than 100 listings being dealt with every day on average.
With the Karratha court overseen by two magistrates on a rotational basis every two to three weeks, there is an intense concentration of matters in those weeks.
Staff have long held hopes of a permanent magistrate being brought on to improve case management.
But a department spokeswoman has confirmed there are no plans to install a full-time magistrate in Karratha in the near future.
“The present arrangement for a magistrate to circuit to Karratha from Perth for two weeks per month is considered sufficient to deal with the current workload,” she said.
The regional WA courts with full-time magistrates are South Hedland, Broome, Kununurra, Carnarvon, Geraldton, Kalgoorlie, Northam, Bunbury and Albany.
The spokeswoman said those towns had them “as they are major regional centres from where (the) magistrate also circuits to surrounding towns and communities”.
Karratha-based Oswald Legal criminal defence lawyer Adam Oswald, who works throughout the region, said the court workload “certainly” warranted a full-time magistrate in the city.
He said the current arrangement showed a lack of acknowledgement that Karratha was a regional centre and needed the resources to match.
“The Government’s going to say they haven’t got the funding ... but you’re talking about a city now, and the services are all still volunteer,” he said. “You can’t do justice on the cheap.”
Mr Oswald said a full-time magistrate in Karratha would be
able to monitor the number of matters being heard and make sure lists did not blow out, reducing unnecessary pressure on staff and clients.
“When I go up to Broome, South Hedland, the court system runs a lot smoother because they’ve got that full-time magistrate who can work through things and work through the peaks and troughs and spread them out,” he said.
Legal Aid lawyer Leanne Wykes is one of the service’s four duty lawyers who represent clients at courts across the Pilbara, including in Karratha.
She reiterated the view that their lawyers faced significant stress working at the Karratha court which could be alleviated with a permanent magistrate.
“The court lists still are very lengthy and the duty lawyer service is still really stretched to capacity on those court days because of the number of people we need to see,” she said.
“We rarely would ever have a lunch break on (general list days) Tuesday or Wednesday and we’ll just work until the end of the list, which is often until about 4.30pm, 5pm.” Ms Wykes said the situation had reached a “crazy” level late last year when the court would frequently sit until 6pm or 7pm and there would still be cases remaining, which the then-magistrate would have to administratively adjourn until the next circuit.
She said while it had improved this year, lists were still overcrowded and staff pressure intense, and there had been at least one instance of a court sitting going until 8pm, a situation Mr Oswald said he had also heard of.
She noted the rotational system also often caused lengthy waits for clients to go to trial, with some taking up to 12 months to be heard because of a lack of time.
Mr Oswald said a full-time magistrate in Karratha would also empower the court to set up specialist programs to address entrenched local crime issues.