My adjournment matter is directed to the Attorney-General, and the action I seek is that he request Court Services Victoria to find suitable alternative court accommodation in Shepparton for the continuation of all court services as usual during the development of the new Shepparton courthouse.
The County Court held its final sitting in the very outdated Shepparton courthouse on 19 November. While the old courthouse will still hear some pleas and appeals, all trials for the County Court and Supreme Court are scheduled to be held in Wangaratta until construction of the new $75 million Shepparton courthouse is completed in two years time.
There are three courts in the existing Shepparton Magistrates Court building. One will be demolished in the near future, and hearings will be relocated next door to the old building that has been used by the County Court and the Supreme Court. This will be used for Magistrates Court hearings during the demolition and redevelopment. I and many other local legal practitioners in the town have been lobbying for years for a new courthouse because of the poor facilities. We are very pleased that the investment in a new courthouse is now occurring.
The Federal Magistrates Court — that is, the Federal Circuit Court — conducts four family law circuits throughout the year and in recent times has had to use the Koori Court, a very small courtroom not suitable for the conduct of a busy family law list. It also needs suitable accommodation pending the redevelopment, as do the many other tribunals and services that operate from our local courthouse. Recently I received a heartfelt letter signed by 17 lawyers who practice family law and who described the Koori Court as woefully inadequate for a very busy circuit. They said that their clients are entitled to better treatment, and I agree.
Suitable accommodation will not be available in the existing facilities during the redevelopment period. There is ample space in Shepparton, where some effort and investment could be made to provide additional court space during the interim period. The proposed relocation to Wangaratta means local lawyers, prosecutors and litigants will be put under further stress for at least two years.
There is no adequate or regular public transport between Shepparton and Wangaratta. Trials inevitably involve many witnesses, including police and other expert witnesses. The travel time by motor vehicle between Shepparton and Wangaratta is approximately an hour and a quarter. Not only will the change of circumstances create significant hardship for people needing to attend court but it will also place a strain on police resources because of the substantial travel that will be required.
Circuit courts exist to service court users in their local communities. I call on the Attorney-General to take the necessary steps to ensure that our community is provided with adequate and appropriate alternative court accommodation for all our courts to function in Shepparton for the two years until the new court is completed.