Work pressures contributed to magistrate Stephen Myall’s death, his wife Joanne Duncan believes. (Supplied)
The widow of a Melbourne magistrate who took his own life last month believes a crippling caseload contributed to the death of her husband, who often heard up to 90 cases a day.
Respected magistrate Stephen Myall, 59, was a passionate believer in the court’s ability to turn people’s lives around before he ended his life three weeks ago.
“Everybody got a voice in Steve’s court,” Mr Myall’s wife Joanne Duncan told ABC Radio Melbourne.
“I guess I’m trying to be his voice at the moment while there’s people listening.”
Ms Duncan said she believed a huge increase in magistrates’ workloads contributed to her husband’s decision to end his life.
“Steve would not infrequently say he’d had 90 mentions, more than 90 mentions, in a single day,” Ms Duncan said.
Ms Duncan said the intense media scrutiny added to the pressure of the job. (ABC News: Chris Sonesson)
“Even the weekend before he died, he had spent two of the three days of the long weekend writing a decision and that was all done … at home.
“[It was] just an unrelenting workload.”
Mr Myall had been heartened after attending a session on wellbeing for magistrates. (Supplied)
The Judicial College of Victoria has begun running wellbeing courses for magistrates and a judicial wellbeing committee, chaired by former Supreme Court Justice Bernard Teague, has been established at the court.
Ms Duncan said it came too late for her husband, but she hoped changes continued to be made to reduce the pressure on magistrates.
“I think that magistrates generally are not good at talking about their own stress,” she said.
“In the week or so before [Steve] died, there had been a judicial college day where they had spent it on the wellbeing for the magistrates and he had come home and said it was really good, it was really useful.
“I think there’ll be changes there and they will get more support.”
Victorian Attorney-General Martin Pakula acknowledged that workloads had increased. He said the chief magistrate had asked for additional resources.
“The workload issue can be resolved by having a larger number of magistrates and the budget, I think, is the place where you’ll see some action on that,” he said.
As well as an in-house wellbeing committee, there is a confidential 24-hour counselling service for court staff.
Mr Pakula said he conceded a lot of the measures put in place to support magistrates’ mental health were “quite recent”.
High profile case added to pressure
In the weeks before Mr Myall’s death, his decision to postpone court hearings for a teenager who kicked a police officer in the head drew criticism in the media.
The Melbourne teenager was facing fresh charges after avoiding a conviction over the Boxing Day assault at the Highpoint Shopping Centre in Melbourne’s west.
Mr Myall delayed the youth’s next court date to allow him to finish his year 12 exams.
Work pressures contributed to magistrate Stephen Myall’s death, his wife believes. (Supplied)
Ms Duncan said the intense media scrutiny added to the pressure of an already stressful job.
“We’re all very quick to judge, often on very limited information,” Ms Duncan said.
“You’ve got these intelligent, passionate people sitting in courts all day and far from living on another planet … they are sitting there, all day, every day, they are hearing the worst.
“I would urge people to actually spend more time in the courts and see what goes on every day.”
Ms Duncan is urging the media to take more time to explain the court’s decisions.
“In the absence of that, people don’t know what to believe and so they will believe the headline on the front page, and so that is often what’s forming policy,” she said.
“When the public are informed and they’re given all the information … magistrates are typically harder on criminals than the general public would be.”