Support sought to ensure fair legal representation
JUSTICE experts are pushing for more funding to stop vulnerable residents falling through the legal cracks.
Stanthorpe, Warwick and Inglewood magistrates handled about 2950 criminal and civil cases last financial year, the Magistrates Courts of Queensland Annual Report shows.
A total of 1785 adult defendants and 78 children faced 3169 charges in 2016-17.
Magistrates also dealt with 214 breaches of bail, probation and suspended sentences; 337 civil claims, 370 domestic and family violence order cases; and 165 child protection order actions.
TASC senior lawyer Katrina Potter said while there was significant support for Toowoomba residents, people living in smaller areas, like Stanthorpe, were severely hampered by a lack of free or low-cost legal services.
She said regional and rural residents often self-represented and were unaware of all their legal rights and obligations, which could cause them harm down the track.
“For example, a farmer might consent to a domestic violence order and not have any idea this will impact their ability to keep weapons,” Ms Potter said.
“We are always saying we need more funding – it is no secret.
“Rural, regional and remote people, particularly the vulnerable residents, have to deal with distance, a lack of technology and if they don’t have a lawyer they can see face-to-face they just won’t get their needs met.”
The State Government needed to invest more money in community and low-cost legal services, said Bill Potts, the deputy president of the Queensland Law Society.
“We build bridges, we build roads, we build tunnels but why don’t we spend that kind of money on the justice system?”
“We have people being denied justice – they are being convicted or they can’t appeal properly because they are being denied access to a system that favours those who have the resources for representation,” he said.