The closure of the Port Adelaide Magistrates Court has been overturned following consultation with community groups led by barrister Stacey Carter, left. Picture: Sam Wundke.
PORT Adelaide Magistrates Court will not be closed this year, as previously planned, due to the disruption and hardship it would cause the western suburbs community.
In a letter issued to staff today and obtained by The Advertiser, Supreme Court Justice Chris Kourakis says the closure, announced last September, will not go ahead. The good news for the western suburbs is accompanied, however, with bad news for the north-eastern suburbs and regional centres.
In the same letter, Chief Justice Kourakis says the Holden Hill Magistrates Court will close by September and also confirms the transformation of the Mount Barker and Tanunda courthouses to circuit-only courts. After circulating the letter to staff at Port Adelaide this morning, the Courts Administration Authority published a video version — read by Chief Justice Kourakis — on YouTube.
Last year, The Advertiser exclusively revealed several courts were being targeted for closure to meet savings targets imposed upon the Authority by the State Budget. Chief Justice Kourakis subsequently confirmed that report, sparking outrage in the western suburbs and a vow to fight to overturn the decision.
Today, Barrister Stacey Carter — who led the community fightback — hailed the announcement as “such a relief” for “everyone in the western suburbs”.
“I’m so excited, my phone has been running hot all morning ... finally, finally, we know the court will not close,” she said.
“However it’s still important we remember that this is just one win, that our court system is crumbling and there is still so much to be done.
“Yes, this is a fantastic achievement but our courts continue to struggle without adequate funding and this must be addressed urgently.”
In today’s letter to staff, Chief Justice Kourakis says the proposed closure of courts was due to the “strained budgetary position” of the Courts Administration Authority.
He says the Authority has already cut $9 million by:
SHEDDING more than 80 full-time staff, or 10 per cent of its workforce.
CLOSING court registries — through which documentation is lodged — in Ceduna, Coober Pedy, Kadina and Naracoorte.
CLOSING the Sturt St courthouse which, during its short existence, was controversial for its size and security arrangements.
REDUCING the number of judicial positions in the Supreme, District and Magistrates Courts.
REDUCING the number of regional circuits by 25 per cent.
Chief Justice Kourakis says the Authority must still find another $3 million in savings, but community consultation had made it clear the Port Adelaide courthouse should not be closed.
He says discussions were had with community groups, Member for Port Adelaide Susan Close and Member for Florey Frances Bedford.
He says 64 per cent of responses to the announced closure came through an online survey conducted by the Authority.
“The concerns of the public included access and travel, community services, adverse economic impacts, facilities capacity and the (specialist) Nunga Court (for Aboriginal offenders),” he said.
“The consultation has shown that the closure would cause significant disruption and hardship to court users and local communities in all locations.
“However, for a number of reasons ... that dislocation would be greater if Port Adelaide, Tanunda or Mount Barker courts were closed.
“I regret that many will be inconvenienced by the closure of the Holden Hill Court.”
Chief Justice Kourakis says that, under the new plan:
PORT Adelaide will remain open, as will the Nunga Court.
HOLDEN Hill will close in September.
MOUNT Barker and Tanunda will convert to circuit courts and their registries will close.
ADDITIONAL staff will be employed in the Adelaide, Elizabeth and Christies Beach courts to take on the workload of the closed courts.
He says the Authority’s budget will be rewritten in order to fund the courts, with additional revenue sourced from the State Government.
The government will also lease space in the Port Adelaide courthouse to expand its Fines Enforcement Recovery Unit.
Chief Justice Kourakis says consideration will also be given to staffing the Youth Court with magistrates, not judges, to generate salary savings.
He says the savings will also allow for the reinstatement of regional circuits which had previously been cut, resulting in “serious adverse impacts” on those communities.
“The Authority’s strategy for the future is to expand audiovisual appearances and online access to the courts,” he says.
“We will work with other justice agencies to implement these measures which will both facilitate access to the courts and introduce efficiencies.”
Chief Justice Kourakis says the Authority will seek further government funding to revamp its IT system — a process previously costed at an estimated $50 million.
“The operation of the courts is not sustainable without that investment,” he says.
“We look forward to the government’s support for this initiative.”
In a statement, Victim Support Service chief executive Julian Roffe welcomed the decision about Port Adelaide, calling it a “big win for a community that spoke so passionately”.
“The backflip on the original decision ... is a clear admission from the Authority that the administration of justice is damaged when courts are closed,” he said.
He said the confirmed closure of Holden Hill was “a sad day for justice” given trial backlogs and long periods in custody for alleged offenders.
Law Society of SA president Rocco Perrotta commended the decision, dubbing the courthouses “vitally important” to the community.
“The Port Adelaide Magistrates Court is a busy facility that services the western suburbs ... news of it continuing has been met with great relief from all concerned,” he said.
“The loss of the Holden Hill Court is substantial and will be felt by the local community ... it’s not just defendants who will be disadvantaged, but also witnesses and victims.
“In the interests of justice, all four courts should remain open, whether that is through additional funding of the Authority or otherwise.”
See original article: Port Adelaide Magistrates Court is not to close