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Open all hours?

Briefs

Cite as: (2003) 77(8) LIJ, p.16

The Law Institute has backed state government plans to reintroduce after-hours court sittings.

Law Institute president Bill O’Shea said a trial of night sittings, as well as the possibility of weekend and early morning sessions, could help unrepresented litigants and witnesses who work during the day.

However, the Institute has called on Attorney-General Rob Hulls to extend the trial beyond the Magistrates’ Court to cover the Children’s Court and small claims and residential tenancies disputes in VCAT.

Mr O’Shea said such a trial could help lessen daytime congestion in the courts.

“The objective of the exercise should be to improve access to justice,” he said. “Lawyers are already working long hours and any change wouldn’t cause much disruption. The proposal reflects extended shopping hours and more flexible working hours in the community generally.”

Mr Hulls has asked the Institute for feedback on the proposed trial, saying it could not work without the support of practitioners.

Mr Hulls told The Age on 26 June that he had raised the idea with Chief Magistrate Ian Gray, the Victorian Bar Council and the Director of Public Prosecutions.

He said one option was to have two Magistrates’ Court sittings – from 10am to 4pm and from 2pm to 8pm – as well as Saturday morning sessions.

“What I am looking at is flexibility and responsiveness to changing work practices,” Mr Hulls said.

Night courts were once a fixture in Melbourne. In 1987, then Attorney-General Jim Kennan established a pilot night court pro gram at the Prahran Magistrates’ Court. The program ran until 1996. The Prahran courthouse was closed two years later.

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