Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 1998 Week 11 Hansard (10 December) . . Page.. 3445 ..
MR OSBORNE (continuing):
practical disadvantages of specialisation justified not having a specialist magistrate, there was some disagreement over the length of that appointment. There was considerable variation in the time periods suggested to the committee, ranging from nine months by the Government to seven years. I supported a longer timeframe because I felt that the people who presented and supported the longer timeframes consistently presented a convincing argument that a generous term would be in the best interests of the children who came before the court.
While the Children's Court sits daily and matters are heard by the allocated or duty magistrate, at present some children's cases will be presided over by more than one magistrate. However, in most cases, the Chief Magistrate advised the committee, magistrates usually defer the case until the particular magistrate is again sitting in the Children's Court and there is enough time to hear the whole matter. This practice does have some benefits for the magistrate, but produces unnecessary and lengthy delays for the child involved and creates the potential for inconsistency.
The committee believes that the introduction of a specialist would speed up court processes and provide a more effective justice and support system for our young people. It would also allow the magistrate to build up a deep understanding of children's affairs and provide the time to develop an appropriate level of expertise and experience of particular children and ACT children's services in general. The committee carefully considered the reservations expressed by the Chief Magistrate and the Bar Association about a three-year appointment. However, the majority of members found their arguments unconvincing. Their reservations were based mainly on practical problems of implementation, rather than a philosophical objection to the principle, and did not seem particularly difficult to overcome. On balance, the majority of the committee accepted the evidence put before it, especially that of Barbara Holborrow, a former children's magistrate in New South Wales for nearly 13 years, and the Children's Services Council, which argued that children often had to remain in care far longer than necessary due to the length of time it took for their case to be heard.
Recommendation No. 2 addresses one of the practical problems of implementation and endorses the provision of a deputy children's magistrate. This deputy would fill in while the designated magistrate is away from the Children's Court - perhaps on holiday or sick leave - so that the business of that court could continue without unnecessary delays.
Recommendation No. 3, if implemented, would require the Government to appoint a ninth magistrate, with the position being advertised as an ACT Children's Court magistrate. I feel I need to point out to members that my Bill did not require the Government to appoint an additional magistrate but, rather, to make an appointment from within its own ranks. I think that the Government should do that initially, but when the number of magistrates is next increased - and the committee does not stipulate a timeframe - we believe that one of those extra magistrates needs to be a specialist appointed to the Children's Court.