Security risk for Bendigo court staff

THE loss of on-site car parks as part of the Bendigo courthouse redevelopment could put judges, magistrates and court staff at risk, a magistrate says.

Loddon-Mallee magistrate Richard Wright said the removal of six car parks from the court precinct meant court officials would have to walk through crowds of court users to do their job.

Mr Wright said the car parks had been removed to "soften" the courthouse with gardens and planter boxes.

Work began on Friday last week after the court received 24 hours notice of their removal.

"The major security concern is that you're unprotected coming in," Mr Wright said.

"If they have to park in the street, when they get to court they're going to have to walk through the crowds.

"There's a lack of continuous screening of people coming in ... we have no way of knowing if someone's got something on board or not."

Mr Wright said the relocation of justice services to the new site, including the Community Corrections Centre, Consumer Affairs and the Sheriff's department, could compound the security risk.

He said judges and magistrates would be particularly vulnerable.

"With corrections coming down here, you’ll have a situation where judges and magistrates have sentenced someone and then run into them in the street which may be a risk factor," Mr Wright said.

"Court staff also won’t be able to have their staff cars here so they will have to transport files with sensitive information in them from here to wherever their car has been garaged."

Bendigo Law Association president Jennifer Digby said requiring judges and magistrates to walk through public areas was unsafe.

"It's extraordinary. We have been saying for a long time we need a purpose-built court and along with that would come better security," Ms Digby said.

"It's a small town and we're all aware that magistrates put themselves at risk by sentencing people and facing family members who are outraged by the results of court proceedings."

The safety concerns are the latest of many security issues facing the Bendigo court complex.

Mr Wright said while he had not faced a serious security incident, he had been confronted while walking through the public area from his chambers to a courtroom. More recently, an 18-year-old prisoner last week escaped police custody after being refused bail on assault charges. 

The Bendigo Advertiser is seeking comment from the Victorian Attorney General's department.

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