Lawyers, judges want more courtrooms out west

Mar 31, 2023 | Publication

The legal fraternity has called for a major expansion of court infrastructure in western Sydney to meet the growing number of civil, commercial, and criminal cases.

The arrival of the four big accounting firms – PwC, Deloitte, KPMG and EY – in Parramatta has driven an upswing in civil and commercial matters, says local solicitor Stephen McAuley.

At the same time, the area’s highly multi-ethnic population, which has grown by 5 per cent in the past five years and is forecast to surge by nearly 10 per cent by 2028, is generating a large pipeline of work.

“It’s not just about convenience for the legal fraternity, it’s about servicing the community,” McAuley says.

“You currently have litigants and witnesses trekking from the Blue Mountains, Penrith and Liverpool into Sydney’s CBD to appear in Supreme Court matters,” he says.

The chief justice of NSW, Andrew Bell, is also pushing for more courtrooms to be built throughout the greater Sydney area, including in south-west Sydney, to match population growth.

Population increase means rising legal needs, says solicitor Stephen McAuley.  

It might not be “a vote-winner” but modern and adequate courtrooms are “an essential part of our civic and civil infrastructure”, Bell said during a visit to Parramatta last month.

“The surging diversity and depth of fresh talent originating from and residing in western Sydney is obvious,” he said.

The freshly ousted NSW Liberal and Nationals government claims “record investments in courts’ infrastructure” during its term.

NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman points to almost $4 million worth of audio-visual technology upgrades over four years in court facilities in Parramatta – 16 per cent of its total budget for AV upgrades.

Speakman says the new $2.3 million NSW Civil and Administrative Tribunal has quadrupled capacity in Parramatta to over 17,000 hearings a year.

But top local law firms, universities and business groups say the 25,000 matters heard in Parramatta across the Local, District and Supreme Courts could be doubled.

They also want the Supreme Court to establish a physical presence in Parramatta, like it has in King Street in the CBD and Taylor Square, Darlinghurst, so an additional 30 per cent of Supreme Court hearings can take place there.

According to a council report, this would create an extra 2200 legal jobs and inject as much as $350 million into the local economy.

Law Society of NSW president Cassandra Banks says a debate on whether more Justices ought to be assigned permanently to any region of NSW, including Parramatta, would be welcome.

The Supreme Court has increased its activities in western Sydney in recent years. Some of the most significant terrorism trials have been heard in Parramatta and two of its judges regularly sit in the precinct. But locals argue it is not frequent enough for the caseload the region is producing and carrying. And it does not cover a broad enough spectrum of the law.

There is capacity for an extra 4000 Supreme Court matters to be heard in Parramatta each year, the council report states.

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