Sites are being scoped out by the NSW government for a multi-jurisdictional justice precinct in Sydney’s southwest to cope with the state’s buckling court system and the needs of one of the fastest-growing populations in Australia.
The Herald understands the future site, potentially in developing areas such as Leppington, Oran Park or Campbelltown, would incorporate emergency services as well as Local and District Court facilities.
Macarthur Law Society president Brett McGrath said the state government told him such a precinct was it’s “number-one medium-term priority”.
“We’re due to have a population about the size of Adelaide … so it definitely needs a court precinct,” Mr McGrath told the Herald on Friday.
“A one-stop shop for legal matters, whether its Local, District or Federal as well.”
It comes after veteran District Court judge Robyn Tupman delivered an extraordinary courtroom outburst over the state’s strained court system, saying she feared her colleagues would suicide if their workloads weren’t reduced.
“Let’s not muck around, we don’t want judges committing suicide like what happened in Victoria,” Judge Tupman said, referring to the deaths of respected Melbourne magistrate Stephen Myall and former magistrate Jacinta Dwyer in the past year.
“I hope we don’t have the tragic outcome in NSW that has occurred in Melbourne because of the extraordinary workload required to be undertaken by the District Court.”
She made the comments during the sentencing hearing of serial sex offender Jean Barbarin, one of seven sentences before her that day.
In response to the senior judge’s comments, NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman said on Friday the government hoped to be making announcements in the “near future” about extra resourcing to ease the pressure on overworked judges and magistrates.
“The heavy caseload problem is not unique to NSW. We’ve seen two tragic deaths of magistrates in Victoria in the last 12 months and we recognise that our courts in NSW, particularly but not only the District Court, are under enormous pressure,” Mr Speakman said outside his Cronulla electorate office.
“That’s why further resourcing for our courts is under active consideration at the moment.”
Mr Speakman said a judicial wellbeing study was also something he could raise with the heads of each jurisdiction.
“The mental wellbeing of judges is something that we all have to take very seriously,” he said.
In her bruising commentary, Judge Tupman called for “more judges, more courthouses, [and] more courtrooms so that all cases can be dealt with properly”.
According to the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics, the NSW criminal courts dealt with 3023 more defendants in 2017 than the previous year – 21,000 more defendants than in 2013.
When asked by the Herald how advanced plans were for a new judicial precinct, Mr Speakman said it was “still under consideration”.
“The Department of Justice is scoping out what that judicial precinct might be at the moment,” he said.
Mr Speakman said the government recognised it would have to keep building courthouses across NSW.
“The biggest growth and demand we expect will be in the McArthur region and that is likely to be our number one priority,” he said.
According to the Greater Sydney Commission’s Draft South West District Plan, released in November 2016, the area is forecast to have a population close to 1.1 million people by 2036.
Mr McGrath said the Campbelltown Courts were at maximum sitting capacity while heritage restrictions on infrastructure at Camden and Picton Courts meant these facilities were not fit for purpose.
“It’s just not safe for any court user at all,” he said.
Mr Speakman has also raised a request from the NSW and Macarthur Law Societies with his federal courterpart, Christian Porter, for a Federal Circuit Court judge to be located in Campbelltown to deal with family law disputes in the region.
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