President of the Law Society of NSW, Richard Harvey, said he appreciated the extraordinary budget challenges the NSW Government has faced in dealing with the crippling economic impact of severe drought, the summer bushfires, and, in particular, the COVID-19 pandemic.
“The funding increases for our state’s justice system are welcomed, given the NSW Government’s most urgent priorities have been to respond simultaneously to the COVID-19 health crisis and set the state on a path to economic recovery,” Mr Harvey said.
“The Law Society understands the need to create jobs, support businesses and reinforce our health system as part of its COVID-19 recovery plan, but we are also mindful the pandemic has placed immense pressure on the vulnerable people in our community and, in turn, on our justice system.
“We also acknowledge that the NSW budget has a $16 billion deficit, and the Government does not expect it will return to surplus until 2024-25.”
Mr Harvey noted that much of the law and justice funding detailed in the 2020-21 Budget Papers has previously been announced over recent months or is recurrent funding for measures announced in previous Budgets.
The 2020-21 Budget includes:
- $17.5 million ($54.5 million over three years) for a major digital and courts reform project to enhance the efficiency and productivity of our state’s courts and tribunals.
- $30.6 million in 2020-21 to continue the Government’s increased capacity of the current District Court.
- $5 million in 2020-21 to upgrade the Albury Courthouse which will include additional custodial courtrooms, judges’ chambers, amenities, jury assembly space and refurbishment of the registry.
- $8.6 million in 2020-21 to continue the upgrade of the Queanbeyan Courthouse, providing a full refurbishment of the courthouse and facilitating integration into the broader precinct.
- $7.5 million for the establishment of a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre in Dubbo to treat people that have become dependent upon alcohol or drugs.
- $11.6 million in 2020-21 for the ongoing reform of the fee structure of private practitioners engaged with Legal Aid NSW.
- $20 million over four years for Closing the Gap, in accordance with the National Agreement, including support for Aboriginal community-controlled organisations to participate in the planning and delivery of the Agreement
- 3.5% increase in funding for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions, 1.1% increase in funding for the Crown Solicitors Office, a 20.1% increase in funding for the Office of the Children’s Guardian and a 3.7% increase for the Judicial Commission of NSW.
- $160.5 million in 2020-21 ($538 million over four years) to reduce domestic and family violence re-offending and support victim safety through the continuation of early intervention initiatives, victim support and perpetrator interventions.
- $3.1 million in 2020-21 to boost frontline services for those at risk of domestic violence as part of the NSW Government’s response to the pandemic.
- $169.4 million investment over four years to provide vital mental health services across the state.
Mr Harvey also welcomed measures in the Budget which address longstanding social challenges in homelessness, child protection and youth justice, including:
- $8.6 million investment in early intervention programs to help reduce youth crime and divert young people away from the criminal justice system.
- $29 million over two years to expand the Together Home Initiative to help rough sleepers into secure housing and break the cycle of homelessness.
- $14 million over four years to continue the Government’s reform of the youth justice system with investments to strengthen security and infrastructure in the State’s six centres.
- Investment in evidence-based intervention services with a total of $1.4 billion to support the safety and welfare of vulnerable children which includes initiatives to drive down the number of children entering out of home care.
Other budget measures noted by the Law Society include:
- $1.9 million in 2020-21 ($7.9 million over four years) to continue the work of the Public Sector Prosecutions Unit.
- $17.5 million investment over two years to improve the online customer experience for Revenue NSW online services and ensure better integration of services with Service NSW for taxes and fines.
- $45.8 million investment over three years to implement the next phase of an end-to-end digital planning system which will improve the customer experience and reducing assessment times through ePlanning.
“As the economy recovers, we look forward to continuing to work with the Government to secure further funding commitments for our state’s justice system to deliver efficiencies which can reduce the backlogs and delays in our courts which have been exacerbated by the pandemic, improve access to justice for vulnerable people, and reduce incarceration rates, particularly for Indigenous Australians,” Mr Harvey said.