Annual Report 2016 - 2017

Aim of the Court

The aim of the Magistrates Court is for a fair, just and safe Tasmania.  It serves the community by providing access to an accountable, independent and impartial system of justice administered according to law.

Purpose

The purpose of the Magistrates Court of Tasmania is to provide an open, transparent and accessible system of justice, to apply the Rule of Law, and to protect and respect individuals’ rights.

Values

  • We value judicial independence and we act independently from Government in the exercise of our judicial functions.
  • Our staff behave with integrity and respect, are accountable, cooperative, act without bias and in accordance with the State Service Code of Conduct.

More detailed information relating to the Court’s strategic plan and its day-to-day operations (services, locations, decisions, court lists) readers should access the Magistrates Court's website.

The Magistrates Court of Tasmania is a statutory body created as a court of record by the Magistrates Court Act 1987 section 3A that comprises the Chief Magistrate, the Deputy Chief Magistrate, and the Magistrates.

Magistrates have jurisdiction to hear and determine a broad range of legal matters.

Magistrates sitting in Courts of Petty Sessions hear and determine simple offences, crimes triable summarily under State and Commonwealth legislation, breaches of duty, applications under various State and Commonwealth statutes, and exercise a wide range of appellate and review functions. Magistrates also hear simple and indictable offences in the Youth Justice Division as well as exercising child protection responsibilities.

Magistrates in the Civil Division hear and determine civil matters to a value of $50,000 or an unlimited amount with the consent of the parties.   Matters up to a value of $5,000 are dealt with as Minor Civil Claims and undergo simplified procedures prior to, and at hearing.

Statutory provision is also made for the Court to sit in the following Divisions:

  • Civil Division
  • Coronial Division
  • Youth Justice Division
  • Children’s Division
  • Administrative Appeals Division
  • Mining Division

Acknowledgments

The Court acknowledges the constructive working relationship that the Court enjoyed with the Attorney-General of Tasmania, the Honourable Vanessa Goodwin MLC, during the reporting period.   Sadly, the Attorney’s ill health during the year meant that she stood down from active involvement in her portfolio.   She was replaced by Acting Attorney-General, the Honourable Matthew Groom.

I express my appreciation to former Chief Magistrate Michael Brett, Deputy Chief Magistrate Michael Daly, all magistrates, including Temporary Magistrate Peter Dixon, the former Administrator of Courts Wayne Johnson, current Administrator Penelope Ikedife, Deputy Administrator Roger Illingworth, and all court staff for their dedication and professionalism throughout the reporting period.

In addition, I express my gratitude to the Court volunteers, particularly the Bench Justices, for the support services they provide to litigants, witnesses and others involved in proceedings before the Court.   The Tasmanian community is indebted to them for their service which is valuable and selfless.

Finally, I acknowledge the outstanding commitment by the magistrates who provide timely access to justice with courtesy, professionalism and great care.

Court Locations

During the reporting year, magistrates constituted courts of petty sessions under the Justices Act 1959, and sat in the various divisions of the Magistrates Court at the following locations around the State:

  • daily court sittings at Hobart, Launceston, Devonport, and Burnie;
  • circuit court sittings at Queenstown, Smithton, Currie, Whitemark, Scottsdale, St Helens, and Huonville.

Personalia

On 27 June 2016, the Attorney-General, the Hon Dr Vanessa Goodwin, announced the appointment of Chief Magistrate Brett as a justice of the Supreme Court of Tasmania to fill the vacancy left by the resignation of Justice David Porter.   Under the Magistrates Court Act 1987 s 6(3)(b), Deputy Chief Magistrate Michael Daly acted in the office of Chief Magistrate between 11 July 2016 and the date of my appointment as Chief Magistrate on 24 October 2016.

This year saw the appointment of a new magistrate.  On 19 June 2017, Magistrate Kenneth Stanton was sworn in as a magistrate, and commenced sitting in the Launceston court.

I take this opportunity to congratulate and formally welcome Magistrate Stanton to the Court.

At 30 June 2017, the end of the current reporting period, the Magistrates Court was constituted by the following magistrates:

Hobart:

Chief Magistrate C J Geason (formerly Rheinberger)
Deputy Chief Magistrate M F Daly
Magistrate S F Mollard
Magistrate O M McTaggart
Magistrate C P Webster
Magistrate G A Hay
Magistrate R J Marron
Magistrate S J Cooper

Launceston:

Magistrate S J Brown
Magistrate S E Cure
Magistrate K J Stanton

Devonport:

Magistrate A R McKee
Magistrate D R Fairley

Burnie:

Magistrate T K Jago

Temporary Magistrate:

Magistrate R E Chandler

Court Staff

At the end of the reporting period, 30 June 2017, the Magistrates Court had an actual staffing number of 53.98 full time and part-time staff distributed across the four permanent court registries situated in Hobart, Launceston, Devonport and Burnie.

Bench Justices

The Court once again expresses its gratitude for the voluntary contributions of the Bench Justices who deliver justice to the community by presiding over preliminary proceedings on indictable offences, and in after-hours courts dealing with urgent applications for bail and family violence matters.  The Bench Justices’ continuing contribution to the criminal justice system in this State is commendable and invaluable.

To ensure that Bench Justices are well informed in the exercise of their powers the Chief Magistrate or her delegate conducts regular meetings with Bench Justices.   Bench Justices are also provided with extensive training before being added to the roster of justices who may preside over their own court.

In the 2016-17 year a training course for new Bench Justices was held in Devonport.

The Court’s National Involvement

The Court continues its involvement in national and international forums for the discussion of justice and court administration in a variety of jurisdictions exercised by the Court.   During the reporting year the Court was represented at the following meetings and conferences:

  • Council of Chief Magistrates Meeting, Adelaide and Brisbane, 10 August 2016 and 16-17 March 2017
  • Asia Pacific Coroners Society Annual Conference, Perth, 8-11 November 2016
  • Australasian Institute of Judicial Administration Conference on Non-Adversarial Justice, Sydney, 12 December 2016
  • National Judicial College of Australia Governing Council Meeting, Melbourne, 17 March 2017

Professional Development

The Magistrates’ professional development program continued with biannual conferences held in Hobart on 27-28 October 2016 and in Campbell Town on 7 April 2017.

A range of presentations were delivered by guest presenters and magistrates.  Topics included sentencing, medical fitness and driving, acquired brain injuries, the impact of trauma, health and wellbeing and recent coronial findings.  I express my gratitude to the organisers of the conferences and to the presenters who have significantly contributed to the ongoing development of the expertise of the Tasmanian Magistracy.

The Chief Magistrate is also responsible under the Magistrates Court Act 1987 for the professional development of Court staff. Staff have undertaken a variety of training opportunities including:

  • New staff induction
  • Family Violence training (online)
  • Work Health and Safety Refresher course (online)
  • Four staff have commenced a Certificate IV in Leadership and Management
  • 40 staff members attended “Thriving in Change” training on 27 and 28 October 2016 in Hobart and Launceston respectively, ahead of anticipated changes arising from the KPMG Review of the Magistrates Court
  • Council of Chief Magistrates and Court Administrators Meeting, Brisbane 16–17 March 2017 (Administrator)
  • Statewide Managers’ Meeting, Campbell Town 7 April 2017
  • First aid training for first aid officers
  • Fire training for fire wardens
  • New supervisor training
  • Civil legislation training for registry staff
  • Springboard Womens Development Program – two staff
  • State Service Management Office Manager Essential Program – one staff member
  • Mediation training for one staff member to carry out court mediations
  • Various short training sessions provided through the Law Society and the Training Consortium

On 16 June 2016 the Attorney-General Dr Vanessa Goodwin announced that she had engaged consulting firm KPMG to report to her by early August on how to improve finalisations, clearance rates, attendances and backlog indicators in the criminal, civil and coronial divisions of the Court.  The Review examined the Court’s administrative systems and resources, including in-court administrative arrangements.   It was released on 23 May 2017 and a steering committee was established to consider and progress the review’s recommendations.   A new Magistrates Court Administrator, Penelope Ikedife, was appointed in December 2016, supported by a fixed term General Manager, Pamela Honan, to implement the required changes.

Some of the recommendations address:

  • Legislative changes to improve management of civil and criminal proceedings;
  • Streamlining administrative and electronic processes; and
  • Redefining the current organisational structure;
  • Standardising processes across all registries.

Improvements in the organisational structure have been implemented within current funding limitations and work is continuing into the standardisation of processes statewide. Some of the recommendations of the review require additional funding, for example information technology improvements, which will be funded as part of the Justice Connect project from the Government’s Digital Transformation Priority Expenditure Program.

The Government announced that it would not pursue the review’s recommendation to consolidate the Burnie and Devonport courthouses.

There have been a number of new bills and amendments to legislation during the reporting period which have had an effect on the operation of the Magistrates Court.  The Court is often consulted on draft legislation, where the legislation may have an impact on the Court.   Legislation which has been the subject of consultation in the reporting period includes:

  • Magistrates Court (Criminal and General Division) Bill 2017 (see below for further information)
  • Coroners Act 1995 – amendments
  • Court Security Bill 2016
  • Expungement of Historical Offences Bill 2017
  • Family Violence Reforms Bill 2016
  • Justices of the Peace Bill 2017
  • Removal of Fortifications Bill 2017
  • Restraint Orders Bill 2017
  • Sentencing Amendment Act 2016
  • Domestic Violence Orders (National Recognition) Bill 2016

Criminal and General Division Legislation

During the reporting period work continued on drafting a new suite of legislation governing the procedures applicable to the Court’s criminal and general jurisdiction.  The proposed Magistrates Court (Criminal and General Division) legislative package will result in:

  • a new Magistrates Court (Criminal and General Division) Act
  • a new Magistrates Court (Criminal and General Division) Rules
  • a new Magistrates Court (Criminal and General Division) Fees Regulations
  • a new Restraint Orders Act
  • consequential amendments to the Justices Act 1959, the Magistrates Court Act 1987, the Supreme Court (Civil Procedure) Act 1932 and other court-related legislation

The Court’s ability to manage the resolution of cases in a timely manner is dependent on the legislative framework governing the Court’s processes.  The current framework is provided by the Justices Act 1959.  The proposed new legislation is expected to help to expedite the criminal litigation process while protecting fundamental rights to access to justice and a fair trial.

The proposed Bill includes provisions for early prosecution disclosure, earlier entry of pleas, fewer adjournments, facilitating the summoning of police officers as witnesses, shorter preliminary proceedings on serious indictable charges, and straightforward methods of evidence presentation.

The legislative package will propose a number of initiatives, including:

  • new case management procedures, standards, and sentence indication powers designed to promote the just and efficient determination of matters
  • a new prosecution and defence disclosure framework for disclosure of prosecution evidence and some defences
  • a new way of commencing criminal proceedings via a “court attendance notice” instead of a “charge sheet” or Complaint
  • new contempt of court powers and increased powers for the Court to control its own process
  • increased property value thresholds for matters that may be dealt with summarily in the Magistrates Court
  • a clear and contemporary scale of legal costs

This long-running project continues, and consultation with stakeholders has now occurred.   Improvements in information technology will be required for both Tasmania Police and the Court to gain the full benefits from the legislative changes and to allow the process to work as envisaged.

National Domestic Violence Orders Recognition Scheme

In December 2015 the Council of Australian Governments (COAG) agreed to introduce a National Domestic Violence Order Scheme (NDVOS) to allow a Domestic Violence Order (DVO) issued in one jurisdiction to be automatically recognised and enforced across Australia.  All jurisdictions gave a commitment to introduce model laws to give effect to the NDVOS in the first half of 2016.

To support the early implementation of the model laws, the Law, Crime and Community Safety Council and COAG agreed to the development of an interim technical solution while a four-year project to develop and deliver a national technical capability for DVOs, which will facilitate information sharing and enforcement of DVOs between courts and police across Australia, is undertaken.

The National scheme and model legislation has been drafted in accordance with the following four policy principles:

  • A family/domestic violence order made or registered anywhere in Australia is nationally recognised and enforceable;
  • An order made in one jurisdiction can be amended by another jurisdiction but only by a court;
  • Where an order made in one jurisdiction is in force, if necessary a new order can be made in another jurisdiction; and
  • The latest court order in time prevails. The Scheme aims to provide a mutual recognition framework to enable the seamless recognition and subsequent ability to enforce DVOs across Australia. Legislation consistent with the national model legislation was tabled in the Tasmanian Parliament.  The Domestic Violence Orders (National Recognition) Act 2016 was passed by Parliament on 9 September 2016.Court staff have been working to ensure that the Court and its administrative processes and systems are ready to accommodate the requirements of the legislation, which will come into effect on 25 November 2017.

Since October 2015, the judges of the Supreme Court have made greater use of their power to remit criminal matters to the Magistrates Court pursuant to s 308 of the Criminal Code.  This power is increasingly used in cases of indictable matters which are less serious and where it would not be inappropriate for a magistrate to deal with them.  This transfer of jurisdiction between the courts has significant benefit to the administration of criminal justice because of the increased efficiency with which the magistrates are able to determine these matters.

During the reporting period amendments to the Sentencing Act 1997 resulted in the Supreme Court being able to make drug treatment orders.  The supervision of Supreme Court drug treatment orders is carried out by the Magistrates Court.   Since the amendment in February 2017 to the end of the reporting period the Supreme Court made no drug treatment orders, but they have been considered in the sentencing process in various cases, and a number are expected to be made by the Supreme Court in the coming year.  The Magistrates Court’s supervision of drug treatment orders is very intensive.   It commences with weekly review appearances, which usually reduce in frequency over time until the order, which may last for 2 years, is completed.

The caseload of the Magistrates Court varies from year to year.  Over the last three reporting periods there have been ongoing increases in lodgements, particularly in the Criminal division, which has experienced an increase of 16% in the past three years.

Detailed statistics about the types and numbers of matters lodged appear later in this Annual Report.

The Court's incoming caseload during the 2016-17 reporting year was as follows:

Case Lodgements:

Case TypeAmount
Criminal - Adult22,527
Criminal - Youth Justice1,533
Family Violence Order Applications1,064
Restraint Order Applications1,250
Child Protection Applications735
Civil (minor civil, civil, residential tenancy)3,838
Miscellaneous Applications2,025
Administrative Appeals46
Coronial Cases579
Total35,597

The Fines, Costs, Fees and Levies imposed were as follows:

Case TypeAmount
Fines$4,210,993
Criminal Court Fees$828,822
Victims of Crime Compensation Levies$288,130
Civil Court Fees$592,225
Appeal Costs Fund Levies$32,481
Total$5,952,651

During the reporting year the Court continued its activities in the areas of problem-solving justice.   This approach to justice requires courts to acknowledge that rather than simply processing cases, the court system should be concerned with taking approaches in an attempt to address the problems that lead to a person’s appearance in court, and work to change offender behaviour and improve public safety where appropriate.

Currently the Court takes this approach in the following areas:

  • Court Mandated Drug Diversion (CMD) program;
  • Diversion List (DL);
  • Family Violence Lists;
  • Youth Justice Specialist List.

The Court continues to work to improve collaboration between participants in these problem-solving justice approaches, learning from and building on what has been achieved in previous years.

The Court relies on the support and expertise of other organisations to ensure the success of the problem-solving courts.   In particular, assistance is provided by Community Corrections, Forensic Mental Health Services, the Defendant Health Liason Service, Youth Justice, Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania, specialist Police prosecutors, and non-government support services.

Court Mandated Drug Diversion Program

The Court Mandated Drug Diversion Program (CMD) was introduced in 2007 to divert people, whose offending behaviour is linked to illicit drug use, into drug treatment interventions.  The CMD program has capacity for approximately 80 defendants statewide.   Referral to the program under a Drug Treatment Order can involve a range of treatment options depending on what is most suitable for an offender’s needs, but may include some or all of the following:

  • Individual counselling;
  • Group counselling;
  • Random illicit drug testing;
  • Residential rehabilitation;
  • Case management;
  • Detoxification (via the State Alcohol and Drug Service).

The program is very intensive; particpants may be on it for up to 2 years.   CMD has been successful in diverting a large group of offenders away from prison into community-based treatment and has had some positive impacts on delaying relapse or a return to crime.

This year the Court and other organisations who are involved in the program celebrated the 10th anniversary of the program with an event held at the Court and co-hosted by Community Corrections.

Diversion List

Another key offender diversion program operated in the Court is the Diversion List (DL).   This May marked the 10th anniversary of the list, for which a function was held at the Court, attended by Her Excellency Professor the Honourable Kate Warner, AC, Governor of Tasmania.  The DL began in Hobart and has now become a permanent feature of Court operations in all registry locations.   At present, the DL sits twice a month in Hobart and once a month in Launceston, Burnie and Devonport, and is presided over by specialist magistrates (who also preside over general lists).   The Hobart Diversion List also includes persons with acquired brain injuries or cognitive disabilities who commit summary offences.

The DL is a “problem solving court” program that diverts eligible defendants to mental health disability and other welfare services to address the underlying issues of their criminal behaviour.   Using provisions within the Bail Act 1994 and the Sentencing Act 1997, the DL seeks to provide an alternative to traditional criminal sanctions where mental illness is causative of the offending behaviour.

Family Violence Lists

Upon the commencement of the Family Violence Act 2004, the Court has been listing separate court sessions for family violence matters to improve its responses and co-ordination with support agencies including specialist police prosecutors, safe families co-ordination unit, legal aid, and court support and liaison services.

Contest Mention System

The contest mention mechanism is a process which enables a defendant, if they are going to plead guilty to an offence heard in the Magistrates Court, to do so at the earliest possible stage of the pre-trial proceedings.   For matters that are not resolved by a guilty plea at contest mention the process is designed to reduce the number of issues in dispute, which should reduce the hearing time.

An evaluation of the contest mention system was completed in November 2012.   The evaluation report presented information relating to the effectiveness of the system as a pre-trial hearing for summary offences or indictable offences triable summarily, which aims to facilitate early guilty pleas and narrow the issues in dispute.

Youth Justice Court

The Youth Justice Court continues to operate as a specialised court state-wide.  A dedicated magistrate in each registry hears all youth justice cases in which the court promotes a therapeutic strength-based approach.

Deferred sentencing options under the Youth Justice Act 1997 continue to provide an opportunity to defer a sentence for some young people for the purpose of assessing the young person’s capacity and prospects for rehabilitation or participation in an intervention plan, and for the purpose of allowing the young person to demonstrate what rehabilitation has occurred or to allow them to participate in an intervention plan.

The Youth  Court continues to be supported by and acknowledges the invaluable assistance of Tasmania Police who provide dedicated prosecutors and early intervention officers, and the Director of Legal Aid who provides dedicated legal practitioners.

The Court also acknowledges the Education Department who now provide Education Liaison Officers state wide who aim to re-engage young people appearing before the court with education.  This is a vital part of youth court as many of the young people appearing have dis-engaged from education.

The Court also acknowledges the commitment of government and non-government bodies who have assisted in building a more integrated team approach which is working towards better outcomes for young offenders.

The Court has established Court User Groups in each of the region – South, North and North-West.  The concept of Court User Groups has support from magistrates as a means of strengthening the Court’s consultative processes with a range of court users, including the legal profession and various court support agencies.

The Court User Groups assist with feedback on the operation of the courts and provide useful input which can be included in the Court’s strategic planning processes.  Regional and relatively informal consultation processes with key stakeholders are also likely to improve the Court’s service delivery, and the status and reputation of the Court within the broader community.  The establishment of the user groups builds on the Court’s goals of community engagement and continuous improvement.  A wide range of organisations considered major stakeholders of the Court are invited including the:

  • Law Society of Tasmania
  • Independent Bar
  • Tasmania Police
  • Community Corrections
  • Legal Aid Commission
  • Victims Support Service
  • Children and Youth (DHHS), incorporating Child Protection Services and Youth Justice Services
  • Statewide Mental Health Services (DHHS)
  • Community Legal Centres
  • Tasmanian Law Reform Institute Court User Group meetings were held across the State again in this reporting period and continue to assist in better service provision to court stakeholders.

The Court’s video-conference facilities increase the community’s access to justice for witnesses and defendants in custody to attend court by video link from any location in Tasmania, interstate or overseas. Video-conferencing substantially reduces the cost of adducing evidence from witnesses residing interstate and overseas.  The facilities use large screens installed for evidence presentation.   Everyone present in court is able to see and hear these witnesses.  Provision has also been made for vulnerable witnesses to give their evidence remotely from a protected witness room in the court building or elsewhere, and the entire video conference system has been integrated into the Court’s digital audio recording system.

Better quality and more reliable video conferencing facilities are required to allow the efficient operation of the Court, improve access to justice and reduce where possible the movement of prisoners and remandees around the State.   Improved video conferencing capability at Risdon Prison is a fundamental component of effective video conferencing use in the Court.

The Magistrates Court website was redeveloped to create a more modern and user-friendly site.  The content was rewritten to allow users navigate more easily to the most used pages, and to provide links to court forms and other information and services relevant to the users’ enquiry.

During the reporting year, magistrates and court officers were engaged in a range of legal education programs that are aimed at improving the understanding of the justice system for a number of groups, such as young lawyers, prosecutors, probation officers, Justices of the Peace, legal studies students, school and community groups.

Legal Practice Course

Since 1997, the Hobart Magistrates have been delivering lectures, and supervising practical courtroom exercises, for university law graduates who are enrolled in the six month Legal Practice Course.  This is conducted between February and August each year.

The sessions are supervised by the Court’s Criminal Law Practice and Advocacy unit.  Magistrates convene mock courts for two hours every week after court adjourns in the afternoon to introduce law graduates to the court room environment in preparation for when they commence legal practice.   The trainees prepare and deliver applications, make submissions, deliver pleas in mitigation, and conduct minor contested hearings.  The magistrates provide feedback to the trainees on their delivery, content, and advocacy skills.   The exercises form part of the assessment for the unit.

Based on feedback from course participants the Criminal Law Practice and Advocacy unit is considered to be one of the most practical units studied by the trainees as the Magistrates Court is the jurisdiction in which most junior lawyers are likely to practice in the early years of their professional life.   The opportunity for students to appear before real magistrates in a court setting is an aspect of the course that is the envy of many interstate jurisdictions.

CourtWatch

As part of the Legal Practice Course each year, the Magistrates Court hosts each trainee for a day as part of our CourtWatch program.   On a succession of days over a two week period, small groups of trainees are shown the practices and procedures of the Court in both its administrative and judicial functions so they will be better equipped to comply with the challenges of legal practice.   They have the opportunity to sit in court with a magistrate and to gain an understanding of the administrative processes of the Court.

Web-Publication of Magistrates’ Decisions

Most decisions in the Magistrates Court are delivered orally due to the large volume of matters which are dealt with and the summary nature of the jurisdiction.   An increasing number of magistrates’ written decisions and coroners’ findings are available on the internet for access by legal practitioners and other interested persons.

Please refer to the Decisions section on the Magistrates Court website.

The Department of Justice  has developed its Disability Justice Plan for Tasmania 2017-2020.   The Magistrates Court is working to implement actions in the Plan with a focus on improving physical access to court buildings, staff training, and better access to information and services.

The Court’s website has been redeveloped and includes the capability of expanding text to various sizes for ease of reading.

The Launceston Magistrates Court has had all public toilets upgraded including an upgrade of the accessible toilets.

Audible level voice activation was included in the public lift.

I acknowledge and thank the range of court support services which are provided, often on a voluntary basis, to assist clients who are having difficulty in understanding the Court process or accessing legal advice or representation.

This year in particular I acknowledge the work of the Law Society of Tasmania, Centre for Legal Studies, and Legal Aid Commission of Tasmania regarding the continuation of the duty lawyer service.   The service provides assistance to applicants, defendants and respondents who are appearing in the Magistrates Court.   The service has significantly contributed to the efficiency and effectiveness of the Court in providing access to justice to those who would otherwise have been unrepresented.

Witness Assistance Service

The Witness Assistance Service is a unit within the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions.  In the reporting period the Witness Assistance Service received a 12 month grant through the Solicitors Guarantee Fund to provide a part-time (50%) WAS officer in each of the Hobart and Launceston Magistrates Courts.  The service, which began operating in early 2017, is available to provide assistance for all types of matters but with a particular focus on sexual abuse matters and matters that fall outside the legislative definition of family violence.  The Service also assists witnesses in the preparation of victim impact statements.

The Service has dealt with 30 matters during the reporting period, and has assisted 77 witnesses.  The positions in the Magistrates Court are meeting a gap in services and have resulted in some good outcomes for both witnesses and the Court process, since better support for witnesses often means that they are more willing to give evidence and may be able to give better-quality evidence to inform the Court.

Salvation Army - Court and Prison Chaplaincy

A Salvation Army Chaplain attends court on a regular basis to offer help and support through the Court process to offenders, their families, victims, and witnesses.   This service also can be important as a referral service to other programs such as:

  • personal development programs
  • alcohol and drug programs
  • housing and homeless services
  • aged care assistance
  • women's domestic violence services
  • financial counselling

Save the Children

Save the Children (STC) continues to support and assist state-wide some of the young people who are subject to bail and young people who have transitioned from Ashley Youth Detention Centre.  A STC youth worker will interview the young person and assist them to identify some pro-social goals and develop a plan as to how to achieve the identified goals.  The STC youth workers will also assist with supporting the young person to seek legal advice, attend appointments and attend court.  A report is prepared to update the Court on the progress being made by the young person.  STC will also support the young person to engage in some pro-social recreational activities which provides other options to offending behaviour.  The partnership between STC and the youth court is an invaluable resource in working as a collaborative team to achieve better outcomes for some of our very disadvantaged young people who are offending and appearing in court.

Baptcare and Mission Australia

Other services that actively engage with the Youth Justice Court are Baptcare and Mission Australia offering assistance and support to young people with a range of needs, such as homelessness, alcohol and drug problems, education and training, family breakdown, and mental illness.

Community Legal Services

In each region of the State the Court is assisted by the various Community Legal Services.  The Hobart Community Legal Service has offices in Hobart and Bridgewater. Along with the provision of free legal advice, the HCLS provides legal representation for the after-hours and weekend courts and the on-call roster for holiday periods.  In Launceston the Launceston Community Legal Centre provides free legal advice and referral to Legal Aid and private practitioners.  In Burnie and Devonport the North West Community Legal Centre Inc.  provides a similar service.  All these organisations assist the Court greatly in preparing parties on how the Court process operates and what is expected to happen in the court room.

The jurisdiction and operation of the Coronial Division is set out in the Coroners Act 1995 and the Coroners Rules 2006.  This report is submitted pursuant to section 69 of the Coroners Act 1995 (the Act).

The jurisdiction of the coroner is to investigate reportable deaths, fires and explosions.  Reportable deaths are primarily those that are sudden, unnatural, unexpected or suspicious.  Coroners are required to make recommendations where appropriate and comment on matters related to public health or safety or the administration of justice, and for the purpose of prevention of future deaths.

Coroner Olivia McTaggart continued her role as the Chief Magistrate’s delegate and full-time coroner.  Coroners Simon Cooper, Rod Chandler and Duncan Fairley also undertook significant coronial duties as the Court consolidated its organisational restructure started in January 2014.

I thank the many organisations involved in assisting the work of the Coronial Division.  I am appreciative of the work of the Chief Clerk and Manager of the Division, Penelope Ikedife and Victor Stojcevski respectively.  I acknowledge the crucial role of the State Forensic Pathologist, Dr Chris Lawrence, and his team of forensic pathologists.  I would also like to underscore the vital support provided by all levels of Tasmania Police, including the many officers of Tasmania Police who assist the coroners in their investigations.  In particular, I acknowledge the assistance provided to coroners by coroner’s associates, and the cooperative manner in which up to seven associates have at various times integrated themselves into the operations of the Division.

During the reporting period, the Northern Coroner’s Office was established in the Magistrates Court premises in Launceston.  As well as accommodating coroners’ associates, this new office incorporates a forensic research nurse and file viewing facilities for families. The new office has served to improve case management and communication within the Division.

For the first time since the 2007 - 2008 reporting period, the Court achieved a case finalisation rate in excess of 100 per cent.  This means that the court finalised more cases than were lodged during the reporting period.  This is the highest finalisation rate recorded for the previous nine years. The coroners, coroners’ staff and coroners’ associates continue to develop and refine strategies to increase efficiencies, notwithstanding the difficult resourcing climate.

Coronial Practice Handbook

On 27 October 2016, Chief Magistrate Geason and Coroner McTaggart launched the Tasmanian Coronial Practice Handbook, a resource for legal practitioners and the general public on the operation of coronial law and services in the state.  The Handbook is available both in book form and via the Magistrates Court's website.

The Handbook was only made possible through a generous grant received from the Law Foundation of Tasmania.

Tasmanian Suicide Register

During the reporting period, the Coronial Division partnered with the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) to establish a Tasmanian Suicide Register.  The establishment of a Register in the next reporting period will enable the collection and analysis of suicide data in order to better target suicide prevention strategies, thereby contributing to the Tasmanian Suicide Prevention Strategy 2016-2020.  This project has been jointly managed by the Division and the Mental Health, Alcohol and Drug Directorate of DHHS.

Commitment to Collaboration

As the projects above suggest, the Court continues to build collaborative partnerships with external organisations that have expertise in a range of areas pertinent to public health and safety, such as the Director of Public Prosecutions, the Tasmanian Health Service, Worksafe Tasmania, the Department of State Growth, the State Emergency Service, Tasmania Police and DHHS. Some of these collaborations have allowed the Court to advance the evidence-base in areas of suicide, drug-related harms and road safety.  In turn, the results of this collaboration are provided to Coroners to inform death prevention recommendations which may be directed to public or statutory authorities and other entities.

A large project which has been ongoing during the 2016 – 2017 year is the drafting of the Tasmanian Multiple Fatality Response Plan Issue 1, 2017 (an Associate Plan).  The document is a state level emergency management plan prepared in consultation with organisations such as Tasmania Police, the State Emergency Service, Department of Premier and Cabinet, Ambulance Tasmania, Department of Health and Human Services and the State Forensic Pathologist. The Plan describes the arrangements for co-ordinating state-wide coronial services to manage a multiple fatality event in Tasmania and is based on existing legal processes and practices.  It is expected that it will be ready for approval by the State Emergency Management Committee during the next reporting period.

Also, in June 2017 the Coroners conducted a workshop for lawyers at the Law Society of Tasmania.  This workshop aimed at providing legal practitioners of all levels of legal career experience with an overview plus a more in-depth look at the workings of the Coronial Division, including the conduct of inquests, the role of forensic pathology and medical matters in the coronial sphere.

Long Term Missing Persons

During the reporting period a Long Term Missing person committee chaired by Coroner Cooper and having members including the State Forensic Pathologist and representatives of Tasmania Police Missing Persons Section and Forensic Science Service Tasmania continued to deal with cases stretching back to the mid-1950s.  In the past year the committee has been able to positively match a number of previously unidentified body parts with recorded long term missing persons.

In addition to dealing with such matters, procedures have been developed and implemented to deal with future missing person cases. The Division acknowledges and thanks in particular Dr Christopher Lawrence, Dr Anne-Marie Williams and Mr Paul Holloway for their contributions to this initiative.

Deaths in Custody

As required by section 69(2)(a) of the Act, I advise that during the reporting period there was one death in custody reported to the Coroner.

During the reporting period, an inquest into three people who died in custody (as defined in section 3 of the Act) was concluded.  The deaths occurred in the previous reporting period. The inquest examined the circumstances of the individual deaths and, pursuant to the coroner’s obligation, heard evidence relating to the care, supervision and treatment of the deceased whilst in prison.  The inquest findings and recommendations are available on the Court’s website (see below).

Deaths in Care

During the reporting period there were three deaths reported of persons held “in care” as defined in section 3 of the Act.

Additionally, during the reporting period three inquests were completed in relation to three further deaths in care from previous reporting periods. The findings have been published on the Magistrates Court website.

Other inquests and findings

All findings and recommendations considered by Coroners to be of public interest are published on the Magistrates Court's website.

During the reporting period, some inquests and findings of significance are as follows:

Troy Colin Monson, Robin Michael, and Scott Clifford Mitchell: Deaths in custody - Risdon Prison, Prison Health Care, prison escort van, suicide, mental health – recommendations on: prison systems, prisoner transport and correctional health care.

BJay Johnstone: Infant death - child protection, homicide and assault, family violence – recommendations on: Child Protection Services systems and practice, Tasmania Police procedures, amendments to the Children, Young Persons and Their Families Act 1997.

Anne Maree Woulleman-Jarvis: Hospital death - head injury, CT scan, subacute subdural haematoma, closed head injury, adequacy of the treatment and care provided by Royal Hobart Hospital.

Kang Jin: Bushwalker, Overland Track - Hypothermia, exposure, search and rescue – recommendations on: Parks & Wildlife Service protocols for tourist bushwalkers.

Barbara Westcott: Death in aged care facility - inadequate care, first aid training, bed pole - recommendations on: ceasing the use of specific class of bed poles in aged care facilities, record maintenance systems of the aged care facility.

Jessica Ann Kupsch: Homicide & assault - domestic violence, family violence order, drug treatment order - comments on: breaches of family violence orders and the Family Violence Act 2004.

Kobie Ryder Blackaby: Water-related child death - Drowning, inflatable pool, fencing and supervision - recommendations on: regulation of portable and inflatable pools.

Deaths from a public place: Tasman Bridge, intentional self-harm, Tasmanian Suicide Prevention Strategy, barriers, signage - recommendations on: preventing suicide from the Tasman Bridge.

The Magistrates Court contributes to the Department of Justice output entitled ‘Administration of Justice’. The Court’s expenditure  is set out in Table 18 below.

The totals include expenditure from the Consolidated Revenue Fund and Reserve By Law.

Table 18  -  Expenditure by outlay - Magistrates Court Services

2012-13

Actual

2013-14

Actual

2014-15

Actual

2015-16

Actual

2016-17

Actual

$’000

$,000

$,000

$,000

$,000

Salaries of magistrates and staff

8,427

8,585

8,589

8,664

8,721

Other Employee Related Expenses

224

182

225

274

278

Information Technology

230

250

280

290

309

Materials Supplies & Equipment

142

102

105

121

103

Travel and Transport

288

291

268

273

303

Property Expenses

1,583

1,567

1,565

1,639

1,600

Other Expenditure

1,094

762

374

510

731

Consultants

11

4

8

21

1

Total

11,999

11,743

11,414

11,792

12,046