The NSW Attorney General last week announced that the NSW Local Court is going to receive a much needed injection of resources with the appointment of 11 new Magistrates in 2017.
This is critically important for the Local Court which hears a range of different matters in different jurisdictions.
The Local Court is typically broken up into two arms; criminal and civil.
The criminal arm of the Local Court deals with people who have been charged with offences such as traffic offences including speeding, drink driving and licence offences, as well as criminal offences such as assault, domestic violence matters, theft and a myriad of other offences.
The civil arm of the Local Court deals with civil disputes, usually between people or corporate entities who are involved with some kind of dispute over money. This can include everything from contract disputes to unpaid employment entitlements and other debt enforcement action.
The role of the Magistrate is to hear the evidence put before the Court and make a determination as to the guilt/liability of the accused and decide on an appropriate penalty. In Australia we have a combination of statute (legislation) and common law (cases that set legal precedents) that guide a Magistrate as to how they should analyse the facts before them and decide a person’s punishment. In the civil context the focus is not so much on punishment, but rather on remedying the loss suffered by the aggrieved party. This is typically achieved by ordering the offending party to pay a sum of money to the party whom the Magistrate determines has won the case.
Of the 11 new Magistrates being appointed, seven are reported to specialise in criminal law and four are reported to specialise in civil law. They come from a range of different backgrounds including private legal practice, corporate legal practice, and the Bar.
The Local Court processes thousands of matters and hosts thousands of people every week.
The addition of the new Magistrates will improve efficiency in the Local Court, meaning that civil and criminal matters can be dealt with to completion more quickly. The obvious benefit of this is that it reduces the burden on victims, defendants and witnesses, as well as the police force.