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Walgett: Where everyone knows Magistrate Claire Girotto's name

On the bench in regional NSW

Publication date: Tuesday, 4 September 2018

Walgett, a remote town in NSW's far north-west with a population of 2,500, may not be where everyone would choose to work but it is exactly where Magistrate Claire Girotto wants to be.

All magistrates are required to do two years of country service when they first join the bench, and for Magistrate Girotto her rural stint led her to Dubbo in 2015. As part of this appointment, she covers some of the most isolated courts in the state including Walgett, Lightning Ridge, Narromine and Wellington. Her love of the region has seen her clock up four years on the circuit, with at least another 12 months to go.

While Walgett has had a reputation for being a crime hotspot in the past, Magistrate Girotto is working hard to change public perceptions of the town, and it's clear the community doesn't want her to leave.

Magistrate Girotto sees a wide range of cases across several jurisdictions including crime, civil, family law, children's court, care proceedings and coronial cases. It's this diversity she enjoys most about the job, along with the informal pace of a country courtroom.

While she is no pushover, she understands there are many issues that lead to the cases she deals with on the bench. This is why she works closely with the local police prosecutor to come up with holistic outcomes that help to stop the cycle of crime.

As Walgett has a high Indigenous population, Magistrate Girotto is a huge fan of circle sentencing. It involves Aboriginal Elders helping to decide an appropriate punishment for an offender who has pleaded guilty and who agrees to face the circle. The success of the program in Walgett is clear—of the more than 24 circles she has participated in, only one offender has come back through the courts.

Over the past two years, Magistrate Girotto has seen the impacts of the drought in her court. Work has become scarce because of the dry conditions, and she's seen farmers do things they normally wouldn't, and has dealt with a number of tragic suicides because graziers are not coping with the ongoing pressures of trying to run their farms.

She also works closely with the local Elders in the community, who have come up with an action plan for the town's young people and developed a Youth Justice Working Group aimed at driving down the crime rate.

There's more work to be done with drug offenders, domestic violence and driving offences, but it's the people Magistrate Girotto is most passionate about, which is why she's not in a hurry to leave.

ABC News recently covered Magistrate Girrotto's work in Walgett. You can read the full story on the ABC News website.

Magistrate Claire Girotto at Walgett Local CourtAbove: Magistrate Claire Girotto at Walgett Local Court (courtesy of ABC News).