Regional justice under threat
16th May 2019
In launching a pre-election plan to boost regional economies and services, Premier Steven Marshall said South Australia’s regions were ‘fundamental to the future prosperity’ of the state.
I wholeheartedly agree with his comments, which is why it was so concerning to hear Chief Justice Chris Kourakis announce that he was consulting with stakeholders across regional SA after being informed that the state government was likely to cut funding to the justice system.
With no fat left to trim after successive budget cuts from both sides of government, the courts will have no choice but to cut key services in regional areas if further cuts are announced in the June budget.
A robust local justice system is integral to regional areas. Crimes are no less serious in the country, access to justice is no less important, so why should country residents have less access to legal rights and services than their city counterparts?
Cuts to regional court services will mean more people having to travel long distances to attend court. This would obviously have the greatest impact on the most disadvantaged, especially as many country areas have little to no public transport options.
With our court system already under so much pressure, reducing local court services and adding cases to the remaining backlogged courts will create further congestion, frustration and delayed justice.
To those who have little sympathy for this issue on the grounds that it will mainly affect criminals and lawyers, there are some important points to make.
The first is that anyone charged with an offence has the legal right to defend themselves. It is a bedrock principle of a functioning civil society. Should an accused person be denied proper access to justice because they’re poor? Of course not. We have seen the devastating effects on Aboriginal communities, especially those in remote areas, when people are marginalised by the legal system due to the tyranny of distance and lack of support services.
Secondly, it is not just defendants who are affected, but victims and witnesses, and by extension the community. It can be extremely difficult, and often unfeasible, for witnesses to take one or two days off from work or family commitments to travel significant distances to attend court. The likely result of fewer witnesses attending trials is fewer convictions, which clearly undermines justice.
Not only is it unjust for country defendants to be denied proper access to justice, it is unfair for victims to see prosecutions fail due to the practical difficulties of running trials that involve parties from regional areas.
In the words of the Liberal Party’s own blueprint for reinvigorating country SA, ‘regions matter’.
This is an edited version of an article originally published by The Advertiser. It has been republished with the author’s permission. The original article can be found here.
Amy Nikolovski practices in the areas of personal injury, workers compensation and general litigation. She is an active member of the Law Society of South Australia and is currently President, being an elected member since 2012. Amy has been recognised numerous times as a leading lawyer in her field in both South Australia and Nationally by Doyle’s Guide to Lawyers.
The views and opinions expressed in these articles are the authors' and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Australian Lawyers Alliance (ALA).