|Communique to RAJWA Members |
Many of you will be aware of Chief Magistrate Steven Heath’s decision to discontinue the volunteer service of JPs presiding in Courts of Petty Session around WA, effective 1 August 2020. Your Association was utterly unaware of this decision. There had not been any prior warning or advice, nor had RAJWA been consulted at any time.
Feedback from RAJWA members has been one of disbelief and outrage that their professional and valued services to the Courts could be so abruptly severed and devalued by the Chief Magistrate and Attorney General’s blunt and disrespectful communication.
Three mainstream government bodies, namely The Chief Magistrate, Attorney General and the Department of Justice, have been responsible for or endorsed this decision, and in particular, the way WA JPs were advised. The Registrar has formed the view that there is a severe disconnect and lack of communication between these bodies. Consequently, RAJWA and members have been receiving mixed messages as to the rationale of their decision.
Since the announcement last Thursday afternoon, RAJWA issued an immediate and preliminary media statement on Friday morning. The Registrar requested an urgent meeting with Mr Sheldon Pratley, A/Executive Manager, Department of Justice, Magistrates Court, Perth. Mr Pratley provided advice to the Registrar and I noted that he was acting on the instructions of the Chief Magistrate.
At 10 am Monday 6 July 2020, the Registrar met with Mr Pratley and posed a series of questions to him. In response, RAJWA requested further a meeting with the Chief Magistrate, which took place yesterday, Wednesday afternoon. Since Monday, the President of RAJWA has also received a letter from the Director-General Department of Justice reconfirming the Chief Magistrate’s decision. Additionally, the Attorney General has released a media statement this effect.
RAJWA is committed to keeping you briefed. The following is a summary of both meetings, the questions presented, and the responses provided. To help you better understand the Chief Magistrate’s responses, I have enclosed a copy of:Chief Magistrate Heaths “Practice Direction”;Letter to the RAJWA President from the Director General, Department of Justice; and The Attorney Generals Media Release can be located at https://www.mediastatements.wa.gov.au/Pages/McGowan/2020/07/Magistrates-to-hear-court-matters-State-wide-for-the-first-time.aspx RAJWA Deputy President, Helen Tuck JP and I, addressed the following questions to Chief Magistrate Steven Heath and Mr Sheldon Pratley, and I provide a summary of their answers:
Underpinning all of Mr Heath’s comments was the quote “I did not consult with anyone”.
Opening comments by Registrar:
RAJWA members are particularly upset, they feel devalued, disrespected, and there is no appreciation for the significant volunteer services they provide. They are more upset about the way this was communicated with no consultation. The ABC knew about this before the JPs.
Mr Heaths comments:
It would have been nice to have more time to discuss this; however, COVID restrictions have impacted this decision. It is always challenging to give forewarning as I would be concerned that the media may release this before the official notification.
Why has the Chief Magistrate referred to “Either or Offences” when JPs (predominately Regional) simply remand Defendants to the next Magistrate’s Court?
This issue is mainly relevant to the Country Courts; however, Courts must have the full authority to deal with matters. There has been a decline in the number of simple offences, and it is harder to get justices to sit in some country areas.
RAJWA would not agree with your statement that JP numbers are declining as we would argue that “active” JPs are increasing. e.g. CLC Perth has a new crop of younger JPs:
It is difficult to keep numbers up in country locations, especially with transient people. Additionally, it is difficult to recruit suitable new Justices.
Members seek an explanation as to why you have referred to their age when JPs are required to step down at 70, which is the same as Magistrates:
What I meant was they are an ageing group. Statistically, as a volunteer organisation, you have an ageing membership. My comments were not intended to offend but reflect on the demographics of your membership. There is an age restriction of when JPs can sit on the Bench.
Who will fill in for Regional Magistrates when they are on Circuit, weekends and public holidays? Eg. Broome / South West?
There will be a Regional Magistrates rostered between the 11 country Magistrates, and this roster will cover weekends and public holidays. These functions will be performed via Video Link. With technology, we can convene a court at any other location.
The two new additional Perth based magistrates will be rostered to cover local magistrates when they are on Circuit. This function will be performed via Video Link.
Why was their no consultation with RAJWA or JPs around WA? We are advised that not even the police have been consulted. As a significant stakeholder, why was there no consultation?
There was no consultation with anyone, nor did I intend to consult. This was not a decision that could be affected or changed by discussion. There was no time to give pre-notice to the Association as I was concerned with leaks to the media. There was no change to how you do the work. I am taking the job away, not changing it. Because I decided to no longer use Justices, there was no consultation was needed. This decision does not affect police operations.
(RAJWA disagreed and challenged these comments.)
Many of our members are concerned as to whether this decision was based on incorrect or poor decisions made by JPs. Is this the case?
There are no concerns over decisions made or the competence of JP. There are occasional matters that come to my attention, and these are referred to the Training Committee. I do prefer qualified Magistrates, and this is an opportunity to put Magistrates in each court and have additional resources. I do have more issues with Magistrate’s decision that are challenged in the Supreme Court.
Have the anticipated changes in the DV Legislation led to this decision? JPs could reasonably assume that the number of applications would increase.
He was not expecting any significant increase and believed that the two additional Magistrates would be able to cover any change.
Do you expect any changes to the Justices of the Peace Act?
He stated that he was not aware of any current intention to change this legislation.
I believe Helen and I were successful in emphasizing the insult, ire and disappointment in the way this decision was communicated to Presiding JPs around WA. With a member’s permission, I handed Mr Heath an Email that we had received from a Regional Presiding JP that accurately encapsulated the general feeling.
He stated that he appreciated the feelings of the JPs.
Next Steps:RAJWA will continue to represent our members professionally;The Registrar has been responding to the Media and key stakeholders; RAJWA will be responding to the Attorney General and Director General, Department of Justice seeking clarification and challenging some statements; andRAJWA will be proving the membership with regular updates.
Murray Lampard AM APM JP | Registrar | Royal Association of Justices WA (Inc.) |
9 July 2020
PRACTICE DIRECTION 1 OF 2020
Justices of the Peace have a long history of sitting in Courts in Western Australia and in doing so have made a significant contribution to the administration of justice. However with the increasing number of either way offences being dealt with in the Magistrates Court their role has in recent years been confined to Restraining Orders and simple traffic matters. Like many volunteer organisations, the number of Justices of the Peace has declined over time and the average age has increased.
In light of these factors and the availability of audio/visual technology, it is an appropriate time for Magistrates Courts to be constituted only by legally qualified Magistrates. Accordingly a Registrar should no longer request a Justice of the Peace to constitute a Court or direct a Deputy Registrar to request a Justice of the Peace to constitute a Court. This Practice Direction is effective from 1 August 2020.