THE Port Adelaide community has refused to lose its courthouse without a fight, while insiders have questioned whether closing four courts will save the justice system any money.
Western suburbs traders today called on residents to adopt the Port Power credo “never tear us apart”, stand together and demand Chief Justice Chris Kourakis reverse his decision. As SA Police confirmed its stations at Port Adelaide and Holden Hill will remain open, legal insiders said any savings arising from the closures would be “one-off” and minimal.
The push to keep the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court open is being led by Todd St barrister and lifelong western suburbs resident Stacey Carter.
She said the “catastrophic” closure amounted to a denial of justice for the Port’s vulnerable, single parents, Aboriginal, disadvantaged, mentally ill, drug-affected and young people.
“This is a drastic change to our legal system in which the community has had little or no part in the consultation process,” she said. “It is clear there are genuine concerns and the community does not support this change ... remaining silent on this particular issue is just not an option. “We have a duty to protect access to justice for everyone who is involved in the legal system, no matter whether the people involved are victims, witnesses, defendants or businesses.”
Last week, The Advertiser exclusively revealed the State Courts Administration Council was preparing for the closure of the Port Adelaide and Holden Hill Courts.
Yesterday, Chief Justice Chris Kourakis formally announced both facilities would close by mid-2015, and their caseloads be shared between the Adelaide and Elizabeth courts. He also announced the Mount Barker and Tanunda courts would hear cases on circuit, instead of daily, until they close in 2018. It is understood the state’s Deputy Chief Magistrate, Dr Andrew Cannon, visited the suburban sites after The Advertiser broke the news last week. It is further understood he told Port Adelaide staff the closure of their facility would save the Council a total of about $200,000, mainly in reduced maintenance and upkeep costs.
Today, court insiders said such a saving was a “once-off” and did not justify “uprooting” entire communities. They said changing Mount Barker and Tanunda to circuit courts was likely to increase, not ease, budget pressures. Such was the experience for the Christies Beach Magistrates Court, which runs the Victor Harbor circuit. Staff at Christies Beach are not provided pool cars and must use taxis and rental cars to travel between the sites.
Today, Ms Stacey Carter said Port Adelaide was an “efficient and effective courthouse” that had only recently been fitted with new computer systems and security cameras. She said it housed a number of specialist courts focused on domestic violence, mental health, drug rehabilitation and the Aboriginal Nunga Court.
“Alarmingly, these changes are going to severely impact the most vulnerable people in our community and this is why there is so much objection to the changes,” she said. “It is single parents, the elderly, the mentally ill, the young members of our community and the family and friends who will be disadvantaged.”
Ms Carter said witnesses, victims and defendants alike would have to pay for city parking or rely on public transport to get to their court hearings in Adelaide. She said that meant alleged offenders and victims could well be forced to ride on the same train or bus together, in breach of restraining orders or bail conditions.
“The flow-on effect of removing the court will mean a direct downturn in the local area and an great impact on what is a strong, and well established Port Adelaide community,” she said. “Taking it away will only decrease the productivity and efficiency of the court system by adding on top of what is an already a heavily overloaded Adelaide Magistrates Court.
“The idea of closing community courts, yet considering spending $500 million to upgrade the city court is simply unproductive ... as the saying goes, ‘don’t fix what isn’t broken’.
Investor Tony Bond is poised to reopen the Railway Hotel, situated across the road from the courts.
“In almost typical SA fashion, the rhetoric doesn’t match the reality — the State Government talks about redeveloping the Port and then the biggest draw in the area gets closed down,” he said. “The government really needs to reconsider the funding it provides to the courts so that places like this can stay open for the benefit of the local community.”
Member for Port Adelaide Susan Close said she was “strongly opposed” to the closure. “I will be seeking a meeting with the Chief Justice to personally deliver that message on behalf of the Port Adelaide Community,” she said.
Shadow Attorney-General Vickie Chapman said Ms Close “was sitting at the Cabinet table when cuts to the Courts Administration Authority were being discussed”. “If Minister Close had an objection to the resources being provided to the courts she should have raised it before the Budget,” she said. “Minister Close’s statement that she will directly address the Chief Justice is a direct defiance of the Attorney-General.”
Also today, an SA Police spokeswoman said the closures of the Port Adelaide and Holden Hill courts did not signal the end of police stations in those suburbs. She said SA Police had been in consultation with Chief Justice Kourakis about the court restructuring plan. “There are no plans under discussion that include the closure of Port Adelaide Police Station,” she said.
“In relation to the cells at Holden Hill, the Department for Correctional Services currently use some cell capacity on an ad hoc basis, at Holden Hill, as well as other police custody facilities to manage their prisoner overflow. “There are no plans in place for the Department to ‘take over’ all cell capacity at Holden Hill.”
Port Adelaide Mayor Gary Johanson said he was relieved to hear the police station would remain open, but he remained “very, very concerned” about the closure of the court. “The city is a long way to expect our residents to have to travel when they are going through the court system,” he said. “I would ask the Chief Justice reconsider this decision, that he re-evaluate this decision, because this will be a terrible loss to our community.”
See Article: Residents of Port Adelaide vow to fight to have decision to close their magistrates court overturned by Chief Justice Chris Kourakis