REGIONAL South Australian lawyers are concerned that changes to country court offices will prevent access to justice for locals.
In recent weeks the Courts Administration Authority has begun closing court offices in the towns of Kadina, Coober Pedy and Ceduna when the court is not sitting.
“They are denying access to justice for a great deal of public,” said Sebastian Hill, from the South Australia Law Society country committee.
“The country courts have huge registries comparatively; they deal with far more than the registries in the city.”
Hill claims that by closing the courts on days when the magistrate is not there the government is saying that they are not as important as the metropolitan population. “It’s a disregard for people who come from far away.”
Along with filing and paper work Hill said the court office staff perform a vital role in providing guidance to the public with legal matters.
“People come to access the court to get information on filing a small claim. They don’t need a lawyer- they can do it at the registrar with their help.”
Payment of fines or infringement notices, as well as extensions or changes in payments are also done through court offices, which is why the new systems is of great concern to people living in regional areas who might be struggling with debts, said Hill.
He added that if the registry staff were only there on sitting days, they would be run off their feet and unable to help people with their inquiries.
South Australian Attorney-General, Michael Atkinson’s response to this is that there are other options and facilities for regional residents to access services for legal issues.
“Payment of fines or infringement notices can be done at any post office with Australia Post, these towns all have post offices; it can be done at Services South Australia offices; it can be done on-line or through the call centre; that’s an important thing to bear in mind on the question of fines payment.”
Atkinson said: “Second thing is if court registry staff have been giving out legal advice to people who are potentially complainants or plaintiffs I think both the Law Society in Adelaide and the Courts Administration Authority would be very, very concerned indeed because that is highly dangerous and it’s not what court registry staff should do, they’re not legally trained.”
However, Hill and members of the society’s country committee have written to the Courts Administration Authority about the changes and its implications on not only the public but also legal practitioners.
“Its part of having a judicial system and having courts, people need to have face-to-face contact.”