Court delay opportunity

A rendering of the new Wyndham Law Courts in Werribee. (supplied) 412425_01

Cade Lucas

The state government is being urged to use a delay in the opening of the new Wyndham Law Courts to invest in other parts of the justice system that have been neglected.

Chief executive of Wyndham based human rights and community legal centre, West Justice, Melissa Hardham, said while disappointing, the reported delay presented a rare opportunity for the Allan government.

“We encourage the government to use this time to engage with the local community and local organisations such as West Justice to take advantage of the once in a lifetime opportunity to create a really transformative and innovative approach to justice in Victoria,” Ms Hardham said.

“This has the potential to put Victoria back on the map in terms of therapeutic jurisprudence and will achieve significant cost reductions to government by providing the opportunity to focus on prevention and early intervention.”

Last week Star Weekly reported that the new law courts wouldn’t open early next year as expected, after funding needed to operate them was deferred in the state budget.

In recent correspondence seen by Star Weekly, Court Services Victoria (CSV) executive director major projects, Tony Michele, informed Wyndham council chief executive, Stephen Wall, that while the $271 million building was still on track to be completed in November, the official opening in March 2025 would be pushed back indefinitely.

In response, the state government said it was in discussions with CSV about when the new courts would be operational, but didn’t deny it would be delayed.

Melissa Hardham said West Justice welcomed the new Wyndham Law Courts when funding was first allocated in 2020, as the current Werribee Magistrates Court was no longer fit for purpose.

However, she said the focus on bricks and mortar had come at the expense of other areas of the justice system.

“Our concern for the current development is that there has been a significant investment in the police station and law courts but an underinvestment in the therapeutic services required to support the community who interact with the justice system,” said Ms Hardham who highlighted family violence as an example.

“It’s intended that there is a specialist family violence court at the new Wyndham Law Courts, so it’s therefore critical that there are family violence services to refer the victim survivors and perpetrators to in order to ensure that the family violence issues are addressed,” she said.

“At this stage these services are either non-existent or subject to long wait lists.”

A spokesperson for the state government rejected the accusation it had neglected family violence support services and crime prevention measures in Wyndham.

“We have delivered more than $5.9 million in local crime prevention projects in Wyndham and $56.7 million for family violence service delivery in the Western Melbourne area, which includes Wyndham.”