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House first, then magistrate

Saturday, 7th April, 2018

By Craig Brealey

A new resident magistrate will be appointed to the Broken Hill Local Court but no-one knows when.

The Department of Justice announced on Thursday that the position of permanent magistrate would not be abolished, as had been feared, but that the court would have to wait until a new house was found for the magistrate.

Yesterday the Far West Law Society said that it had not been told of this decision and was concerned that no time had been given for the appointment of the new magistrate.

The Department of Justice decided to sell the magistrate’s residence, a brick home in one of the city’s newest suburbs, after a complaint from the prospective replacement magistrate that it was sub-standard.

That magistrate, Brett Shields, was meant to have started work next week. The Local Court has been run by relieving magistrates since December.

Two weeks ago the Far West Law Society and City Council expressed alarm at the NSW Chief Magistrate’s anouncement that he was considering abolishing the position of resident magistrate and having the Far West served by “fly in, fly out” magistrates.

The Chief Magistrate, Graeme Henson, also said that court sittings could be reduced from four weeks a month to three.

However, on Thursday this week the Department of Justice said the resident magistrate’s position would be kept and that the sittings would not be cut.

“There is no plan to abolish the magistrate’s position at Broken Hill (which includes Wilcannia and Wentworth) and it will remain an important centre for the delivery of justice services in Western NSW,” a spokesman for the department told the BDT.

“As soon as new accommodation is found, a permanent magistrate will be appointed to the circuit.”

It would have cost $93,000 to bring the magistrate’s house up to scratch, the department said, because it needed “significant upgrades and repairs”. 

Selling the house “may take several months, depending on market conditions, however arrangements will be made as soon as practicable,” the spokesman said.

“No sittings have been changed.”

Relieving magistrates have been presiding since Broken Hill-born Geoff Dunlevy left the city in December.

Mr Dunlevy, a former president of the NSW Law Society, lived in the magistrate’s residence in Wyman Lane for 10 years with his wife and children.

His replacement was meant to have been barrister Brett Shields who was appointed a magistrate last year.

The president of the Far West Law Society, Rachel Storey, said the way the whole matter had been handled was unsatisfactory and unfair.

“How long will it take to find the new property? How much priority will be given to this by a cash-strapped department that complains about having to spend $93,000 on repairing the old one?” Ms Storey said.

“I had a matter in the list today that was part heard, and the next hearing will not be until August.

“I make no criticism of the magistrates but this is what will keep happening and it’s not fair on the accused, it’s not fair on victims or witneses or prisoners on remand.

Ms Storey said the Far West Law Society had not been told that the resident magistrate’s position was safe.

“My concern is that we’ve had nothing in writing that the decision has been reversed and we won’t be satisfied until we do.” she said.

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