The 2016-17 Queensland Magistrates Court annual report reveals our courts were extremely busy last year.
The 2016-17 Queensland Magistrates Court annual report reveals our courts were extremely busy last year. Sadeugra

Rural courts lack aid

JUSTICE experts are pushing for more funding to stop vulnerable southwest Queensland residents falling through the legal cracks.

In Charleville alone, a total of 329 adult defendants and 24 children faced 603 charges in 2016-17.

Magistrates also dealt with 89 breaches of bail, probation and suspended sentences; eight civil claims, 69 domestic and family violence order cases, and 26 child protection order actions for Charleville.

Cunnamulla recorded that 223 adults and 13 children face 358 charges in that same period.

Quilpie had 44 adults and two children face 73 charges.

TASC senior lawyer Katrina Potter said while there was significant support for Toowoomba residents, people living in the southwest were severely hampered by a lack of free or low-cost legal services.

She said regional and rural residents often self-represented and were unaware of all their legal rights and obligations, which could cause them harm down the track.

"For example, a farmer might consent to a domestic violence order and not have any idea this will impact their ability to keep weapons,” Ms Potter said.

"We are always saying we need more funding - it is no secret. Rural, regional and remote people, particularly the vulnerable residents, have to deal with distance, a lack of technology and, if they don't have a lawyer, they can see face-to-face they just won't get their needs met.”

The government needs to invest more money in community and low-cost legal services, says Bill Potts, whose firm represents clients in the region.

"We build bridges, we build roads, we build tunnels but why don't we spend that kind of money on the justice system?” the deputy president of the Queensland Law Society said.

"We have people being denied justice - they are being convicted or they can't appeal properly because they are being denied access to a system that favours those who have the resources for representation.”

The Queensland Government said it had invested millions in rolling out specialist courts and resourcing support services.

This included providing $85.1 million for Legal Aid and passing on Federal Government funding to community legal centres, a spokeswoman for Attorney-General Yvette D'Ath said.

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