Call for judges to live where they work

FLY-IN, fly-out justice could be eliminated under a National MP's plan to force New South Wales District Court judges to live in the regions where they preside.

Member for the Northern Tablelands Adam Marshall's "Judges for the Bush" proposal calls for six new judges to be permanently installed at Coffs Harbour, Orange, Port Macquarie, Taree, Wagga Wagga and either Armidale or Tamworth.

The only two judges currently based outside Sydney, Newcastle and Wollongong are at Lismore and Dubbo.

"For all other District Courts across the state, judges are flown in from Sydney, accommodated in motels and then flown back to Sydney at the end of the week," Mr Marshall said.

"This sort of delivery of justice is needlessly expensive, inefficient and results in decisions which are out of step with community expectations."

Grafton would still lack a permanent judge under the proposal, but would have closer access to one based in Coffs Harbour.

Mr Marshall said ending the current fly-in, fly-out arrangements would cut delays that caused the court's backlog to reach 2000 cases by the end of last year.

The Baird Government responded with a $20 million funding package announced in December.

Among other measures, the money was to be spent appointing temporary acting judges and public defenders and increasing the number of regional court sitting dates.

The average District Court case in 2014 took 328 days to be finalised where a defendant was on bail - up from 288 the previous year.

A NSW Law Reform Commission report found Lismore's average wait had reached 401 days, almost double the 206-day delay a year earlier in 2013.

Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton was not sold on the proposal for new judges, but promised to keep it under discussion.

"The decisions about where and when District Court judges sit are made by the Chief Judge of the District Court," she said.

"The NSW Government recently appointed two District Court judges as part of a $20 million investment to help ease the backlog of criminal case trials in NSW.

"This investment will mean more than 250 extra District Court sitting weeks to keep our justice system working.

"Locating permanent presiding judges at locations that don't sit continuously throughout the year may not be the most efficient use of judicial resources."

Mr Marshall said basing judges where they lived would deliver better judgments for their communities.

"Judges living here in the regions would deliver more cost-effective and efficient justice," he said.

"They will live in the region which has to deal with the implications of their decisions on the bench, and their rulings will be better informed by community expectations." -ARM NEWSDESK

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