The New South Wales Attorney-General, John Hatzistergos, has demanded to know why 23 prosecutors attended a taxpayer-funded conference in lieu of funding being allocated to staffing the courts in Armidale and East Maitland.
Twenty-three prosecutors attended the conference of the Australian Association of Crown Prosecutors in Brisbane in July. Activities reportedly included learning to shoot pistols and machine guns. The total bill - footed by taxpayers - was $110,000.
A fortnight later the Director of Public Prosecutions, Nicholas Cowdery, said he was unable to supply staff for court sittings in East Maitland and Armidale, claiming the department did not have the $30,000 needed to cover the costs.
"To have a situation where $110,000 is spent on a conference and two weeks later it's argued they don't have $30,000 to conduct sittings in East Maitland and Armidale raises some questions - and it's important those questions be answered," Hatzistergos told Associated Press reporters on Sunday.
"Sending 23 people to Brisbane at significant expense doesn't correlate well with saying 'I haven't got resources to be able to run court cases'."
Cowdery has not yet publicly responded to the Attorney-General's criticisms, but in August released a statement to Lawyers Weekly defending his position in regards to allocating resources to the East Maitland and Armidale courts.
"The DPP [Nicholas Cowdery] informed the District Court at Newcastle that he was unable to provide a prosecutor for trials in additional criminal sittings of the Court at East Maitland for the fortnight commencing 3 August 2009. A similar situation was forecast for trials in similar additional sittings at Armidale on the same dates," the statement said.
"The DPP said in an article in the Newcastle Herald on Tuesday that this had come about because of inadequate funding to employ a sufficient number of Crown Prosecutors or to brief private counsel. (Five years ago there were 97 Crown Prosecutors, one year ago 87 and now 82)," it said.
"A meeting has been arranged between the DPP and the Executive Director and the Attorney-General where this and other funding issues will be addressed. In the meantime, the DPP has now briefed private counsel to prosecute trials at both sittings."
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