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"Courting disaster": Legal backlash against 'night court' push

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A former president of the Law Society says a proposal by the Attorney-General to open night courts and impose weekend sittings is a danger to the legal profession that wouldn’t solve problems with burgeoning case lists.

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InDaily revealed yesterday that Attorney-General Vickie Chapman had raised the prospect of opening night or weekend sessions in a meeting with chief magistrate Mary-Louise Hribal, as she ponders measures – including rolling lists – to ease congestion in the courts more broadly.

Night and weekend hearings were last used in the 1990s in SA, and Adelaide layer Rocco Perrotta, a past present of the Law Society, says he worked in both.

“I don’t think that failed because of a backlash from the profession as such, it just wasn’t well patronised,” he said.

“But my main concern is the impact on all those who work in the criminal justice system.”

Perrotta says magistrates and lawyers already work nights and weekends, preparing cases and judgements, with high instances of work-related stress and depression.

Just last month, the Victorian state government pledged $129 million over four years to help alleviate the pressure on overworked magistrates and judges, including funding for 18 new magistrates, two new County Court judges and one new Supreme Court judge.

Ironically, Victoria’s Chief Magistrate Peter Lauritsen has since wound back courtroom hours, with the Victorian Magistrates’ Court to fall into line with SA’s opening hours of 10am – 4pm from next month.

“Magistrates don’t work 10 to 4 – they’ve got a workload outside hours, writing judgements, considering matters, reading and preparing,” Perrotta said.

“Those in the criminal justice system do work long hours – including nights and weekends.”

He said extra court days would “add to the stress that lawyers are under anyway”.

“And I’m not sure it’s going to solve anything,” he added.

“I’m not sure these massive lists are going to then come down.”

Perrotta said the bottleneck is not acute in the Magistrates Court in any case, with the District Court the major focus of gripes over trial delays in recent years. He said any delays in the Magistrates Court generally stemmed from issues other than caseload management, including delays in obtaining forensic evidence.

“I’m all for looking at any solution for any problems… but I’m not sure this idea is going to solve too much,” he said.

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