It’s no secret that courtrooms around the nation are filled to capacity, with lawyers and their clients frustrated by long delays in the justice system.
The juvenile system is no exception, with Children’s Courts at Glebe and Parramatta stretched to the limit.
But it is hoped that the opening of a new inner-city Children’s Court in 2017 will help ease the burden.
State of the Art Facilities
The new court is set to open on the corner of Albion and Commonwealth streets in Surry Hills, replacing the existing Bidura Children’s Court in Glebe, which is due to close in July 2017.
The new court will be designed to preserve the historic buildings currently on site while being fitted with extensive upgrades. The state government is expected to spend $30 million over two years on the project, with the new court boasting extensive facilities, including AVL technology, private witness rooms which allow witnesses to give evidence via CCTV, conference rooms for lawyers and support services, and holding cells.
Importantly, the new complex will house four courtrooms, compared to the existing two courts at Bidura. This is expected to help clear the growing backlog of cases.
Announcing the move, NSW Attorney General Gabrielle Upton said that:
‘children and young people who come before the Children’s Court are often some of the most vulnerable members of our community. They need extra care and attention. State-of-the-art facilities …will help reduce the stress of being part of the justice process.’
Old Court Gets a New Lease on Life
The new site was the location of one of the first Children’s Courts in New South Wales – the Metropolitan Children’s Court, which first opened its doors in 1911. During its operation, the court also housed an on-site Metropolitan Boys’ Shelter, which acted as a remand centre and home for boys awaiting court proceedings.
In its heyday, the Metropolitan Children’s Court heard thousands of cases, including that of a young boy named Alan L from Erskineville, who was arrested and charged with ‘use of language of an offensive nature whilst using a public telephone’ after an employee of the Newtown Telephone Exchange made a complaint to police.
According to the complainant, the 16-year-old boy had made numerous prank calls of an offensive nature to the exchange. After receiving yet another call from the boy, the operator was instructed to ‘keep him on the line’ until they located and arrested him. He was eventually sentenced to a 2 year good behaviour bond.
But even in the good old days, the court was criticised for overcrowding and poor facilities, and was eventually closed down in April 1983 when Bidura Children’s Court opened its doors.
The Role of Children’s Courts
NSW Children’s Courts were established in 1905 by the Neglected Children and Juvenile Offenders Act in response to the widespread poverty and child neglect at the time.
The first courts played a supportive role by carefully balancing the interests of the child against community expectations. Today’s Children’s Courts deal with:
‘matters related to the care and protection of children and young people, applications for Compulsory Schooling Orders and matters where children and young people are charged with committing a criminal offence.’
In carrying out that role, Children’s Courts are required to ‘ensure that the best interests of children and young people are the paramount consideration.’
Although criminal proceedings involving kids have taken an increasingly punitive approach in serious cases, Children’s Courts also aim for early intervention and diversion from the criminal justice system.
Children’s Courts recognise that many child offenders can be put back on the right path, and aim to focus on breaking the link between underlying issues and criminal offending by referring children to community support and housing services, and Juvenile Justice Officers who can assist them in getting their lives back on track.
The importance of specialised Children’s Courts in our criminal justice system cannot therefore be underestimated.