Overburdened District Courts need more than just new case management approach

The New South Wales Bar Association says the new system is of limited application

Overburdened District Courts need more than just new case management approach
The New South Wales Bar Association says that the overburdened criminal justice system would need much more than just a new case management system.

The latest report from the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR) has revealed marked improvement in the average time it took for cases balloted using the special “rolling list court” (RLC) system. Average time from committal to finalisation was recorded at 262 days, which is down 28% from the 364-day average for cases in the general list. Average time taken to enter a guilty plea was 151 days for RLC cases, down 31% from 220 days for general list matters.

Despite the system showing promise in the criminal justice system that’s plagued with delays, the NSW Bar said that the RLC initiative is of limited application as it only applies to publicly funded cases involving in-house legal aid and prosecution by the NSW Director of Public Prosecutions.

The narrow focus excludes accused persons who do not qualify for legal aid or who choose to pay for private representation, as well as private practitioners who appear for clients on legal aid.

“With the criminal justice system near breaking point due to delays, the District Court needs more than a new case management approach to reduce the backlog,” said Arthur Moses, NSW Bar president. “It requires more resources and funding for the Legal Aid Commission and the Courts so that people are adequately represented by senior lawyers at all stages of the criminal justice process and the courts are sufficiently resourced to deal with the workload.”

There are currently more than 2,000 criminal trials and nearly 1,200 sentencing matters outstanding in the District Court. The average delay between arrest and trial finalisation is over 2 years, the lawyer organisation said.

“Putting to one side the impact on the accused who may be on remand during this period, these delays cause unnecessary stress to victims and witnesses who are already suffering from the effects of trauma,” Moses said.

“It is proper legal aid funding that will result in a significant enhancement to the proper functioning of the criminal justice system as those involved in the system will be able to be represented by experienced counsel who understand how the criminal justice system works and are able to provide assistance to the court. It is also crystal clear that the District Court also needs more judges as that court is facing a tsunami of cases and has a crushing workload. It is these measures that will reduce delays and in the long term save the community money rather than trial case management procedures that only apply to a fraction of persons facing charges,” he said.

Related stories:
Pioneering study shows speed isn’t everything in High Court civil cases
NSW Bar names fewest silks in 24 years

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