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Review to consider scrapping Magistrates Courts for Local Courts

A former District Court judge charged with the first-ever review of Queensland’s 135-year-old Justices Act 1886 will consider rebranding Magistrates Court as Local Courts presided over by judges.

Former District Court judge and Childrens Court President Michael Shanahan AM, who was appointed to head the Criminal Procedure Review of Magistrates Courtsin March, said the proposed review was likely to take a year. He is seeking feedback about the current criminal procedures in the Magistrates Courts, the way processes work and views on possible improvements.

Mr Shanahan, in an online video released last week, said that, in its current form, the Justices Act had been written for another time, was drafted before the invention of zippers and the creation of the Australia Commonwealth on 1 January 1901, and in desperate need of updating.

“We know the world and Queensland has changed since the time the Justices Act was created,” Mr Shanahan said. “Firstly, it is important to know what the Act does. The Justices Act 1886 sets out the way criminal proceedings are dealt with in the Magistrates Court.

“When I say criminal proceedings, I mean when a person has been charged with a criminal offence or offences … that is often by the police, but not always and comes to court for the charges to prosecuted and heard and decided by the Magistrate.

“All criminal charges start here and most offences are finalised in the Magistrates Court.

‘The procedures, the way the court operates, uses the procedural laws created in the late 1880s. While the Justices Act has been amended over the years, it has never been reviewed.”

Mr Shanahan said it was important people understood that the review was focused on criminal procedures in the Magistrates Court jurisdictions and not those of the higher District and Supreme Court.

“My task is to make recommendations to help create new legislation to one day replace the Justices Act … (and) focus the review on recommending modern, clear and simple procedural laws which consider the needs of court users, protect and promote human rights and enable better participation.

“I’ve (also) been asked to consider whether the Magistrates should be renamed Local Court judges and Magistrates Courts called Local Courts.’’

In March, Attorney-General Shannon Fentiman announced Mr Shanahan’s appointment.

“The Justices Act 1886 is used every day in Queensland and is fundamental to our criminal justice system,” Ms Fentiman said. “This review is well overdue, it’s been 135 years since the Act was introduced in Queensland Parliament, and it’s crucial our justice system can continue to operate effectively for Queenslanders now and into the future.

She said the review would involve widespread consultation, including with the Queensland judiciary, the Chief Magistrate and court staff, prosecution agencies, legal stakeholders, and the community generally.

She said the State Government had committed to introducing new Magistrates Court criminal procedure legislation that supported a modern, fair and timely criminal justice system before the end of this term.

Mr Shanahan served as President of the Childrens Court of Queensland from 2011 to 2018. In 2018, he was appointed a Member of the Order of Australia for his significant service to the judiciary and legal profession and as an advocate and mentor for juvenile and Indigenous justice issues.

Matters to be considered by Mr Shanahan during the review include:

  • options for improving and consolidating existing Magistrates Courts criminal procedure laws
  • alternative ways the Magistrates Courts could deal with criminal matters
  • supporting the increased use of technology and electronic processes
  • how laws can balance the interests of victims and accused persons, and
  • the need to protect and promote human rights.

He will also consider if:

  • a single Magistrates Court of Queensland should be established, and
  • Magistrates and the Magistrates Courts should be retitled as Local Court Judges and Local Court/s respectively, having regard to the costs and benefits of such a change.

Watch Mr Shanahan’s video address. Read more about the review and the consultation process.

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