FIFO mag­is­trates to stay

Pilbara News - - Front Page - Ali­cia Perera

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.

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