|2006 Local Court of New South Wales
Annual Review 1
Foreword by Chief Magistrate of New South Wales 3
1 An overview of the Local Court 5
Jurisdiction and divisions 5
The Magistrates 9
Chief Magistrate’s executive office 20
The work of the Local Court Registries 21
2 Court operations during 2006 22
Criminal jurisdiction 22
Civil jurisdiction 27
Children’s Court 28
Coroner’s Court 31
Industrial jurisdiction 34
Licensing Court 34
Mental health 36
Mining jurisdiction 36
3 Diversionary programmes and other aspects of the Court’s work 37
Diversionary programmes 37
Children’s Court diversion programmes 41
Technology in the Local Court 42
4. Judicial education and community involvement 45
Judicial education and professional development 45
Judicial assistance programme 47
Legal education in the community and participation in external bodies 47
5. Appendices 54
The Court’s time standards 54
The Court’s committees 56
Court by Court statistics 60
It is with great pleasure that I present the Local Court Annual Review for 2006. The past year has been one in which the Court consolidated its reputation for effective Case Management and professionalism. It has also been a year of change.
In August 2006 my predecessor, His Honour Judge Price was appointed to the Supreme Court of New South Wales. Earlier in the year Her Honour Magistrate Sweeney was appointed as a Judge of the District Court. Both these appointments reflect the increasing reality that the Local Court is a highly competent, professional level of the judiciary with an ability to do justice to those who appear before it and to provide an opportunity for those skills to be carried forward in appointment to higher judicial office.
The 2006 Review provides a quantitative measure of the Court’s caseload and efficiency. It also provides an overview of the Court’s involvement in the development of new Court models and diversionary programmes, as well as outlining the contribution of the Magistrates of the Court to educational and other community initiatives.
In the area of quantitative appraisal the success of a court is judged in part by its productivity. Statistics presented in this Review clearly demonstrate the Court’s commitment to productivity and its achievements. Timeliness indicators have improved steadily over a number of years despite a significantly increased caseload. The New South Wales Local Court has consistently performed strongly in the Australian Productivity Commission’s report on government services. For the fourth year in a row, the Court ranked first in the time taken to deal with criminal matters. This is a commendable result, achieved against a continuum of rising workloads but no increase in judicial resources.
While these results are gratifying, ultimately the most important performance measure for any court must be the quality of justice for those who come before it. With that in mind, the Court is committed to the continuing professional development of judicial officers, as described in Part four of the Review.
Measuring the quality of justice is not something that can be attributed to mere statistics. There are other means however of identifying the direction the Court has taken in improving its professional standards.
In recent years it has become clear that the finalisation of increasingly serious criminal offences within the Local Court has become an important and realistic option for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions. The complexity and objective seriousness of matters brought to finality by way of findings of summary hearings and sentence has increased significantly. Many would see this is an expression of confidence in the capacity of the Court to do justice and part of the fruits of its long held philosophy that continuing judicial education ultimately contributes to enhancing the quality of decision making brought to bear in its discrete areas of jurisdiction.
The Local Court has embraced and implemented a range of progressive legislative and administrative initiatives. The Uniform Civil Procedure Rules have impacted on the standardisation of approach within the civil jurisdiction of all courts. Aided by Practice Notes designed to assist in meeting the legislative underpinning of the civil jurisdiction the Court has made significant inroads into its civil caseload and has been active in making recommendations for further reform.
In the criminal jurisdiction alternative sentencing approaches such as Circle Sentencing for identified Aboriginal offenders and the Magistrates Early Referral Into Treatment (MERIT) programmes continue to show promise in terms of addressing aspects of causation of offending and rates of recidivism. The commitment by the Court in pursuing constructive and positive outcomes for these types of programmes saw an expansion of a number of Local Court diversionary schemes during 2006.
Mental Health Liaison Services expanded to three new locations (Burwood, Central and Wagga Wagga Local Courts). The MERIT programme expanded to three new Courts, (Waverley, Newtown and Fairfield Local Courts). This programme is now available in 60 Local Courts throughout the State. The Circle Sentencing programme was expanded to the Mount Druitt Local Court. The Domestic Violence Intervention Model operated in Wagga Wagga and Campbelltown Local Courts and shows significant promise within this important area.
During the year, the Court also continued to increase the use of courtroom technology. Audio Visual Technology to conduct bail hearings and take evidence from witnesses outside the jurisdiction is available in 22 Local Courts and five Children’s Courts throughout the State and the Court is committed to extending its capacity in this promising area. Closed circuit television facilities, which facilitate vulnerable witnesses giving evidence in sensitive matters, are also available in a number of Local Courts. In the latter part of the year a comprehensive review of the coronial jurisdiction was commenced with a view to enhancing the capacity of the Court to deal with inquests and fi re inquiries in a more orderly and timely manner. This review is to be completed in the first half of 2007.
As the busiest and largest Court in Australia, the New South Wales Local Court is the primary interface between the community and the legal system in this State. Since its inception, the Court’s jurisdiction has grown steadily more diverse and complex. Today it covers civil, criminal, mental health, children’s criminal and care, coronial, industrial, liquor licensing and mining matters. The diversity of matters and attendant caseload means that the efficient operation of the Local Court system depends on an effective partnership between the Magistrates, the Chief Magistrate’s Office and the Local Courts Administration. This Review gives some small insight into the outstanding work in each of these areas.