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ABC News
Paige Cockburn

NSW Coalition promises more magistrates, domestic violence sentencing review ahead of election

The NSW government has pledged to appoint more magistrates to the local court system to clear the backlog of domestic violence cases if re-elected at the March state election.

The announcement is part of a suite of measures promised by the Coalition in the lead up to the election to stamp out domestic violence after a rise in reported cases during the past 12 months.

The government's pledge would see five new permanent magistrates appointed in July to deal with the huge delays in local courts that mean some domestic violence victims are waiting nine months to have their cases heard.

The NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) says time to justice in the local court has risen significantly over the past four years due to COVID-related disruptions.

"We have a problem in the local court, in terms of timeliness of dealing with all matters, including domestic and family violence matters," Mr Speakman said today.

"Until COVID struck, New South Wales had the fastest magistrates court in the country."

Last month, BOCSAR released analysis that showed the average time it takes to contest a domestic violence case had blown out from 160 days pre-COVID to 270 days at the end of the past financial year.

The average time to justice for other local court matters had blown out from 198 days to 271 days.

Attorney-General Mark Speakman said bolstering the number of magistrates should clear the system backlog by the end of 2024.

Around 37 per cent of pending local court criminal hearings are domestic-violence related.

"If you are a perpetrator of domestic violence you will be in court faster and if convicted, you will be in jail sooner," Premier Dominic Perrottet said.

"We want to do everything we can to make women and children across New South Wales incredibly safe.

"Enough is enough, this has to end."

The total of magistrates would eventually return to its current level under the proposal, with retiring magistrates not replaced for a short time.

If re-elected in March, the government has also committed to:

  • a review of all domestic violence sentencing
  • a feasibility study on a specific domestic violence court in New South Wales
  • fund a specific domestic violence court list across three local courts

The review into sentencing will be conducted by the Sentencing Council and comes after the recent coercive control inquiry heard significant concern about the adequacy of sentencing on breaches of Apprehended Violence Orders.

Minister for Women’s Safety and the Prevention of Domestic and Sexual Violence Natalie Ward said the special court lists would create specific days to deal with domestic violence matters where support services are available and all legal officers on site are trauma-informed.

It would also include safe witness rooms to ensure victim-survivors aren't in the same room as a perpetrator.

"We want to provide that additional assurance that you will be supported when you come forward," Ms Ward said.

"When you talk about trauma-informed, that means it is terrifying and re-traumatising for them to come forward.

"Some people just drop out because they cannot face that."

Mr Perrottet said the court lists and associated support services would cost $30 million for two years.

Earlier this week, the government said it wanted to quadruple the number of ankle bracelets to better track domestic violence perpetrators if re-elected on March 25.

Removing the eligibility criteria for victim-survivors applying for a Rentstart Bond Loan has also been promised, as have stamp duty exemptions and concessions.

Labor has committed to establishing a new, specialist multicultural domestic and family violence centre in south-west Sydney if it is elected.

The centre would increase accessibility to services and safety for migrant and refugee women.

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