I rise to speak in support of the Magistrates’ Court and Coroners Acts Amendment Bill 2007. As we have heard from previous speakers, the bill makes six separate but interrelated amendments to the Magistrates’ Court Act 1989 and also the Coroners Act. I do not wish to cover all six proposed amendments, but I will make a series of points that I think need to be reinforced in respect of the importance of what this proposal will mean, not just in terms of the Magistrates Court but also in terms of our general approach to the judicial system and its benefits to the community in its widest aspects.
Firstly it clarifies the roles within the Magistrates Court quite clearly. At present the Chief Magistrate is unable to appoint acting magistrates to the Drug Court division even though there may be certain acting magistrates who are particularly well suited to handling a number of matters dealt with by that division of the court. The way it operates at the moment is quite restrictive and does not provide the sort of flexibility that is required, particularly in those sorts of situations.
The bill is also an attempt to make the court system much more efficient. For example, we will have the added flexibility in terms of case management in that registrars will be given adjournment powers.
That will be in respect of consent matters and not contested matters. It will allow magistrates to concentrate on more controversial and contested matters that require an understanding of points of law that may lead to further legal proceedings. That in itself is a significant change, and it should not be taken lightly. Once this time is freed up magistrates will be able to delve into other areas, and one would assume they will have significantly more time for preparation and the other things that are required for the advancement of these cases. The bill will also allow for a more timely process by providing for additional officers who will be authorised to witness statements in committal hearings. We all know that there has been significant pressure in the system for some time, and this will open up that bottleneck so that we will have a much more streamlined judicial system.
A major change is the expansion of the role of acting magistrates.
The bill will enable the Chief Magistrate to assign acting magistrates to the specialist divisions of the court, including the Drug Court division, but we also will have people allocated to the Family Violence Court and the neighbourhood justice division. At the moment we have a situation where if a magistrate in the Drug Court or the neighbourhood justice division becomes ill or is on leave or if there is another event that causes them to be unavailable, an acting magistrate cannot be appointed to do that work. This will free up not just one area but a whole range of the areas we are talking about this evening.
In the area of family violence, as we have heard from previous speakers, a pilot program has been running for the last couple of years. A sunset clause requires that pilot to finish on 30 October 2007. Following talks with a number of stakeholders, it is understood it is appropriate to extend that to 30 October 2009. That will enable a more thorough examination of the intricacies that are involved in intervention orders.
When the legislation comes back before us we will have an opportunity to look at much more detailed information and give in-depth consideration to the decision-making process in this very important area, which unfortunately continues to be problematic, not just for the judiciary but also for the wider community.
In conclusion the amendments in the bill provide us with a much more modern approach to the judicial system. The bill provides us with a much more flexible working approach, and importantly, it does this whilst maintaining the appropriate levels of responsibility within the tiers of the judiciary. That also needs to be underlined. Too often when we talk about flexibility in the workplace it is a matter of grabbing skills and tasks that belong to one sector and throwing them up or down onto others, whereas this bill appropriately allocates responsibility and skills to certain levels of the judiciary.
As a result, we have six fairly simple amendments that will provide direct as well as indirect benefits to the community in general. Therefore I strongly commend this bill.