Local courthouses across the region are having their hours cut, with Gundagai now only open Tuesdays and Thursdays, and Temora Mondays and Wednesdays.
Tumut courthouse has not officially been cut back, but for some time now it has not been open ‘Monday to Friday’ as the sign on the door claims, with its days open changing every week depending on staffing levels. For example, it was not open last Friday, nor this Wednesday, with the days open changing week to week.
A Department of Justice spokesperson said almost all registry services were now available over the phone and online, and that all local courthouses in the region were managed remotely from Wagga on days they aren’t open.
However, it seems retired magistrate Peter Dare’s warning that local courthouses were having their costs cut is coming true.
The former Tumut magistrate made some scathing comments after a prosecutor asked for an adjournment because the Temora courthouse was closed when he tried to file the necessary paperwork.
Mr Dare suggested the government was trying to limit the opening times of smaller courts to “whittle them down so they can close them”.
“Services are being eroded quite surreptitiously,” he said at the time, “and I believe the savings are quite illusory.”
Mr Dare said he believed there was an erosion of services to people in country New South Wales.
“People have nowhere else to turn,” he said.
“They turn up to the court house and the doors are closed,” he said.
The shadow attorney-general, Paul Lynch, joined Mr Dare in his criticism of the court system. Mr Lynch said the erosion of services “reflects the government’s mismanagement of the courts and their disinterest in the justice system”.
He said the government was trying to save money at the expense of necessary services for rural areas.
“Since coming to power, the government has significantly cut local court funding. This is based solely on Treasury driven cost cutting and not on community need,” Mr Lynch said.
“One of the government’s fundamental responsibilities is to provide basic services – including the justice system. This state government seems to have forgotten that.”
“Funding of courts should be based on community needs, not the arbitrary logic of accountants,” he said.
“This is especially the case when the government is drowning in rivers of gold from stamp duty and when they keep boasting of being such good economic manage.”