Compassion needs to be an important component in the dispensation of justice meted out by Queensland’s 101 magistrates, according to the elected head of the state’s peak legal body.
Queensland Law Society President Elizabeth Shearer said yesterday that very few Queenslanders ever chose to be involved in the court process and as such it was important that compassion played a part in the judiciary’s dispensation of justice.
In a speech to welcome newly appointed Deputy Chief Magistrate Anthony Gett, Ms Shearer said the Magistrates Court was the “coalface of the Queensland courts” and the point of most contact between the general public and the justice system.
“Many in the community form their personal perception of the justice system based solely on this experience of the Magistrates Court,” Ms Shearer said. “It therefore has a great responsibility for ensuring that the public has confidence in our (justice) system.
“The demands and the heavy workload of this court need to be tempered with some empathy for the people in the matters before it – many of whom are overwhelmed by the experience.
“Few people choose to be involved in a court matter and keeping that in mind is an important component of dispensing justice. Compassion still has a part to play in our system.”
Ms Shearer said demands on the Magistrates Court required judicial officers to possess intellectual agility, legal acumen, flexibility and adaptability.
“The broad jurisdiction of this court requires an expansive or transferable competence across many areas of the law – a rarer skillset in these days of significant specialisation,” she said.
Queensland Chief Magistrate Judge Terry Gardiner said magistrates resided in 33 places around the state and presided over 122 local communities, clearing 95% of all criminal matters each year.
“Judging, that is what (magistrates) do,” Judge Gardiner said. “They clear (the vast majority) of criminal lodgements throughout the state, exercising numerous jurisdictions such as child protection, the civil jurisdiction, youth justice and domestic and family violence.
“In comparison to the volume of work disposed of, they are very rarely appealed and even more rarely successfully appealed.”
Judge Gardiner said all Queenslanders could be “justifiably proud” of the work and commitment given by the state’s magistracy.