Local Court sittings have been increased at Gosford Court House to allow for two magistrates to sit full time at this location, but the local legal community has expressed concerns about the venue’s capacity to cope.
In a written media statement, the NSW Chief Magistrate’s Office said: “After carefully reviewing feedback from local stakeholders, the Chief Magistrate will move Local Court sittings to Gosford, freeing up Woy Woy Court House to become a full time Children’s Court for the Central Coast.
“Local Court sittings have also increased at Gosford to allow for two magistrates to sit full time at this location,” the statement said.
The NSW Government has also recently closed its NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal (NCAT) purpose-built conferencing and hearing rooms in Gosford and moved some NCAT cases to Gosford Court House.
Ms Rosemary Long, President of the Central Coast Law Society, wrote to the Parliamentary Secretary for the Central Coast, Mr Scot MacDonald, to express her concerns about the changes, which are expected to take place from March.
“The overcapacity already occurring at Gosford Court House…has been worsened by the closure of NCAT rooms in Gosford and the relocation to the Gosford Court House.
“The Gosford branch of the NSW Trustee and Guardian also closed in November 2016 and I do not know what role Gosford Court House may have to play in terms of its existing local clients,” Ms Long said.
Mr Darrell Pannowitz, from Tonkin Drysdale Partners, also wrote to Mr MacDonald expressing concerns about the changes.
Mr Pannowitz said the proposal to completely cut Local Court sittings at Woy Woy so that the Magistrate can be freed up to sit full-time at Gosford “necessarily means there are no facilities at the Gosford complex for NCAT.
“This is just another example of bureaucrats within the same department not talking to each other and thinking things through,” Mr Pannowitz said.
“The alternate view is that they have discussed the additional workload for the Court complex and determined that matters need to be transferred to Newcastle or elsewhere, which causes them no concern,” he said.
“In a perfect world, there should be additional Court infrastructure at all of the Wyong, Woy Woy and Gosford Court complexes.
“This will become necessary at a future time,” he said.
Mr Pannowitz suggested an alternate roster that may free up a court room at Gosford for NCAT one day per week, but it is understood that his suggestions were rejected by the Chief Magistrate.
“Surely it is more efficient for the community, police, juvenile justice, other court resources and the overall administration of justice, for a Magistrate to travel between courts rather than have the whole community travel between courts?” he said.
Mr Paul Mereniuk, Partner with Peninsula Law, said the cessation of a Local Court list day at Woy Woy Court House would result in a 25 per cent increase in the work load of the Gosford Local Court.
He said the Chief Magistrate’s Office had argued that the changes would result in an extra 12 sitting days added to the Gosford Local Court monthly calendar.
“Unfortunately the statistic fails to take into consideration that the Gosford Local Court has the following sittings: Monday one sitting for Gosford Court matters only; Tuesday two sittings for Gosford Court matters only; Wednesday two sittings, one for Gosford matters and one for defended Woy Woy matters; Thursday two sittings for Gosford matters and Woy Woy matters; and Friday one sitting.
“Accordingly, the only availability to increase Local Court sitting times occurs on Monday and Friday of each week in the month, therefore, instead of there being an increase of 12 local court sitting days as projected, in fact there can only be an increase of eight.
“To add to this, the Gosford Court House facility struggles to accommodate the stakeholders it currently services for both the District and Local Courts.
“This struggle will now be compounded by the addition of 25 per cent more cases which will necessitate a minimum of one support person for each defendant in Criminal matters, and one support person for each party in Civil or Family Law matters.
“The proposed increase in workload has not been met by any increase in rooms available for conferencing clients or for accommodating victims of domestic violence.
“This will also result in security issues and the need for conferencing of clients in public as opposed to private spaces.
“This is totally inappropriate,” he said.
Feb 3, 2017
Georgie Louden, NSW Justice
Jan 4, 2017
Darrell Pannowitz, Tonkin Drysdale Partners
Jan 13, 2017
Paul Mereniuk, Peninsula Law
Jackie Pearson, Journalist