Magistrate adds more workload

Taylar AmoniniNorth West Telegraph

The Pilbara’s legal schedule is about to have a shake-up as the South Hedland magistrate takes on the duties of one of the Karratha fly-in, fly-out magistrates.

From January the South Hedland magistrate will replace a week of her South Hedland circuit time with a week on the Karratha circuit, taking the place of one of the current FIFO magistrates.

Despite a history of magistrates being overworked in the Pilbara, a spokeswoman at the Department of Attorney General said Magistrate Michelle Ridley felt she had the capacity to include the Karratha circuit.

“The current listing interval at South Hedland is 12 weeks and 15 weeks in Karratha, which are both below the standard 19 weeks,” she said

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In the 2016-17 financial year, South Hedland Magistrate’s Court had 2683 cases while Karratha Magistrate’s Court had 2788, both an increase in cases on the previous financial year.

Port Hedland’s leading lawyer Richard Whitwell also reflected the confidence, saying the organisation and co-operation of the magistrate’s team in South Hedland was exemplary.

“Not to say past magistrates weren’t up to the job but this current team just has a very good sense of communication and I think (the magistrate) is more than capable of taking on the two circuits successfully,” he said.

“In this digital world, she also has the ability to see people through video calls, so if an emergency happens when she is in a different town there is still that ability to do her job.”

Despite the increase in case loads in both Pilbara towns, Legal Aid regions director Lex Payne reflected Ms Ridley’s confidence, saying he was not worried about a repeat of the overloaded history of Pilbara magistrates.

“Population has decreased since the whole area was serviced by a single magistrate,” Mr Payne said.

“This appears reflective of a general reduction in criminal charges and people requiring less of Legal Aid services in areas not crime related, for example Care and Protection applications by DCPFS.”

In 2015, the North West Telegraph reported the Pilbara’s magistrate was drowning in work at the time.

At the time, the magistrate was responsible for eight Magistrate’s Courts across the Pilbara, including the Karratha and Roebourne circuits.

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