Positive steps for justice in a challenging budget

Law Society of NSW

NSW Budget measures that better resource the state’s justice system and support vulnerable people are welcome, but many of our courts remain in critical need of modernisation.

President of the Law Society of NSW Brett McGrath said the additional funding to Legal Aid, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and extra judicial resources recognise and respond to a justice system under pressure.

“In the face of significant budget deficits into the future and a slowing economy, the Law Society is pleased the Government has found space to provide much needed funding boosts to key agencies that help deliver the rule of law in our community,” Mr McGrath said.

“We welcome previously announced funding for ‘up to six additional magistrates’ along with today’s announcement of extra funding for the growth of the NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal and a new judge for the Land and Environment Court.”

Mr McGrath said the investments represent positive steps for the justice system, but added the Law Society looks forward to seeing the details of how these resources will be allocated, particularly where programs concern the state’s most vulnerable people.

“The $224.1 million allocated to reform the out of home care system recognises the desperate need to properly care for children and young people for whom living with family is unsafe. The Law Society looks forward to working with the government on this critical work,” Mr McGrath said.

“We likewise welcome the $250 million investment in housing options for those most at risk of homelessness and are particularly pleased that those exiting correctional and mental health facilities are included among those who will benefit.”

The expansion of the Staying Home Leaving Violence program statewide, along with significant additional support to the Women’s Domestic Violence Court Advocacy Service, Men’s Behaviour Change Programs and perpetrator research represent solid investments in addressing domestic and family violence in the community.

The Law Society has long advocated for policies and programs that empower Indigenous people and communities and applauds the budget’s Aboriginal Economic Development Package and funding for Regional Aboriginal partnerships.

“The expert solicitors on the Law Society’s Indigenous Issues Committee are ready to offer their input into the Aboriginal cultural heritage reforms and standalone legislation,” Mr McGrath said.

“We note with some concern, however, that only one year’s funding has been provided for the critical and effective Walama List in the District Court. We look forward to more secure, long-term funding being included in future budgets.

“As a longstanding advocate of diversion programs to help children and young people avoid contact with the criminal justice system, the Law Society welcomes the $66.9m investment in youth diversion, and again, looks forward to the detail on how the money will be allocated.”

Mr McGrath said the Law Society recognises the challenging economic environment in which this budget was delivered but urged the government to better demonstrate its commitment to supporting the justice system in NSW.

“Justice is no less an essential service to the community than health, education or transport. While hospitals, schools and roads are designed and built to cater to growing communities and emerging technologies, courthouses are often left to decay,” Mr McGrath said.

“The Law Society again calls for a court system that keeps pace with community growth, including through appropriate investments in court facilities and technology enabling more use of Audio-Visual Links and online courts.”

/Public Release.