NOT ONLY does Newcastle need more court resourcing, but the Supreme Court of New South Wales should hear more cases in the region according to the Law Society president, Catherine Henry.
As Lawyers Weekly reported last week, Henry called for a new court complex comprising of a joint state/federal facility to address problems Newcastle was having with its judicial processes. She also said that despite rising legal work in the area, the Supreme Court had regretfully chosen to conduct more cases in Sydney.
“The Court only sits in its criminal jurisdiction, and only in the more important trials, and it does that so that it sits in the local region where the crime has occurred,” Henry said.
“But in regard to the civil jurisdiction … civil circuits used to sit in regional and rural NSW. But I think in 2004 the Supreme Court made the decision not to have those circuits anymore, and that is a source of regret for the local profession.”
The decrease in Supreme Court cases in Newcastle reflected a general reluctance to inject more money into the region’s court system, something Henry wanted to amend in 2007.
“The key point that we wish to communicate at the opening of law term is the fact that our court resources in Newcastle are appalling,” she said. “They are limited to the extreme.”
Yet both the Supreme Court and the NSW Attorney-General’s Department said the reason the Court had decided to conduct less of its proceedings in Newcastle was purely down to a drop in workload.
“The Chief Justice has said on many occasions that regional solicitors throughout NSW, and including Newcastle, simply do not file in the Supreme Court as often as they used to,” a spokeswoman for the Court said, explaining that civil filings from Newcastle had significantly dropped in the past decade.
“In 2006, only one civil case was filed in the Supreme Court from Newcastle. That brings to a total of four the current civil cases in the Court’s largest division, common law.
“There is simply not the workload to justify the Supreme Court sitting in Newcastle on civil matters,” she said, a sentiment echoed by NSW A-G Bob Debus.
When criminal matters, such as murder trials, occurred, the Supreme Court was happy to conduct trials in Newcastle when the need arose, the spokeswoman said.
“In fact, the first ever regional sitting of the Court of Criminal Appeal was in Newcastle,” she said, pointing to two cases being heard in the area since regional sittings were introduced five years ago.
The NSW A-G said the matter was one for the Chief Justice to determine.
“The Chief Justice of the Supreme Court monitors the civil workload at Newcastle and where appropriate schedules a sitting of the court there,” Debus said.