Justice not at home: House search means Wentworth court delays

A MAGISTRATE’S rejection of a “substandard” home in regional NSW will lead to long delays in hearing criminal cases at Wentworth Local Court, lawyers say. 

Former Sydney commercial barrister Brett Shields, appointed to the bench last year, was not impressed with his assigned house in Broken Hill – even though previous magistrate Geoff Dunlevy had lived there with his family for ­several years.

The Department of Justice has decided to sell the house, which it said required “significant upgrades and repairs”, and buy a new property for the region’s magistrate to live in.

However, the department said it could take “several months” to find a new house, meaning Wentworth, Broken Hill and Wilcannia courts will be serviced by fly-in, fly-out magistrates until then.

Far West Law Society president Rachel Storey said the arrangement was not satisfactory as it would lead to delays in the ­finalisation of court matters.

She said Wentworth needed a permanent magistrate, particularly because of its geographical isol­ation, high level of disadvantage and large indigenous population.

The Department of Justice said there was “no plan to abolish the magistrate’s position” for the Far West.

“As soon as new accommod­ation is found, a permanent magistrate will be appointed to the circuit,” the department said in a statement to Sunraysia Daily.

Ms Storey said while that was a “win” for the community, she still had not received written confirm­ation of the decision.

She said former Broken Hill magistrate Mr Dunlevy had often invited lawyers for dinner to the house in question.

“It’s in probably the best street in Broken Hill,” she said.

“The house is fine – it just has not been lived in for three months.”

It remains unclear whether Mr Shields, who once represented former Health Services Union secretary Kathy Jackson, would be reappointed to the Far West once suitable accommodation was organ­ised.

NSW Police, whose Far West-based prosecutors work in both Wentworth and Broken Hill courts, declined to comment.

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