The appointment of four new magistrates has come on the back of a $10.6 million refurbishment of Australia’s busiest courthouse.
Downing Centre Court has been undergoing significant refurbishments over the past several months, resulting in some restoration work on the grand old building and the completion of four new court rooms for the Local Court, bringing the total number of courtrooms to 40.
New court rooms
The Local Court is often referred to as the ‘engine room’ of the NSW justice system because it deals with about 96% of all criminal matters from start to completion.
The additional four courtrooms will increase capacity, enabling the court to better manage the significant workload placed upon it.
The new additions include a multi-purpose custodial courtroom, which will be able to serve as the Drug Court.
The Drug Court aims to rehabilitate those with underlying addictions and dependencies who commit criminal offences. Instead of traditional sentencing which would involve jail time offers offenders a chance to participate in rehabilitation programmes. Over the years it has had significant success in stopping reoffending amongst those who participate in rehabilitation and social reintegration programmes.
As well as the new courtrooms, the refurbishment provides spaces for other services such as Legal Aid, NSW Police, NSW Health, Community Corrections and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.
There are also an additional six interview rooms, three additional remote witness rooms and a new safe room specifically designed for victims of crimes such as domestic violence and sexual assault.
Four new magistrates have been appointed to replace those who are retiring. These are Michael Ong, Kasey Pearce, Gareth Christofi and Rebecca Hosking.
The new appointments bring the local courts closer to gender parity than ever before with an almost equal number of magistrates being women which is significant, considering that law and justice have traditionally been male-dominated professions.
Mr Ong has been a practising lawyer for 18 years and has worked exclusively in the area of criminal law.
He has worked for the Aboriginal Legal Service in Western New South Wales and is currently a practitioner with Legal Aid NSW.
Ms Pearce’s career has been dedicated to the area of criminal law. She has worked for Legal Aid NSW and had her own firm for several years.
She has also worked as a policy adviser for the NSW Government in the area of crime prevention.
For 20 years, Ms Hosking has specialised in dispute resolution defending public liability and professional indemnity claims.
She has worked pro-bono for numerous not-for-profit organisations including the Women’s Legal Service which assists women who are victims of domestic violence and sexual assault.
Mr Christofi joins the bench from a role as a Crown Prosecutor on serious and complex trials in the District and Supreme Courts.
He worked for many years with the office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP) and has provided advice to the DPP in relation to investigations by NSW Police, and also the Police Integrity Commission and the Independent Commission Against Corruption.
The four new magistrates bring a wide range of expertise to the Downing Centre Court, and will be sworn in over the coming weeks.