Hard time for justice in clogged Newcastle District Court

admin | 杭州桑拿
5 Jan 2019

THE wheels of justice have never creaked more slowly in Newcastle District Court with statistics showing that it has gone from being the best-performing district court in the state to among the worst in just two years.

More and more cases are languishing for months, causing a backlog that has resulted in some defendants now receiving trial dates as far away as August next year.

Only 35 per cent of defendants had their cases disposed of within six months last year – a drop from 55per cent in 2012 and a state-best 68per cent in 2011, the NSW District Court’s annual review has revealed.

That six-month period does not include a case’s journey through the local court, which in itself can take anywhere from a few months to more than a year.

Across the state the figures are just as bleak with the percentage of trial matters finalised within six months dropping from 50per cent in 2011 to 47per cent in 2012 and 33per cent last year.

Criminal barrister Peter Harper said the court’s judges and support staff were working harder than ever, but an increase in the number of cases going to trial – instead of defendants pleading guilty – and the complexity of those trials was behind the delays.

‘‘I can assure the community that the Newcastle District Court is working at least as hard if not harder than previous years,’’ he said.

‘‘Judges are still sitting full days and inevitably taking work homewith them to complete overnight and on weekends.’’

Mr Harper noted that judges were constantly squeezing in sentencing hearings and appeals around criminal trials.

‘‘While judges prioritise trials over all other matters, the end result is that there is only so many hours in a working court’s week and completing these short matters means that trials must be interrupted,’’ Mr Harper added.

‘‘And it appears to me that as time goes on crimes alleged seem to be generally getting more serious in nature, meaning that often a higher proportion of matters can only be dealt with in the District Court meaning the queue is necessarily getting longer.

‘‘As a general rule, the more serious the matter the more complicated the evidence – for example DNA and crime scene investigation – and the more complicated the evidence the longer the trial.’’

A spokeswoman for the Attorney-General Brad Hazzard said the government was trying to reduce delays by increasing pre-trial discussions between prosecutors and defence lawyers.

‘‘The changes seek to reduce the length of criminal trials by encouraging parties to identify issues in dispute as early as possible,’’ the spokeswoman said.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW, the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions and the Public Defenders Office have set up a working group in Newcastle to explore the potential to finalise cases earlier.

‘‘Legal Aid NSW has also established an internal committals monitoring committee, which will aim to increase the number of committals dealt with in-house,’’ she said.

‘‘Matters dealt with in-house by Legal Aid at the committal stage have a higher rate of plea negotiation and guilty pleas.’’

Newcastle Bar Association president Peter Cummings SC noted these improvements, but said it was still obvious that the various agencies working in the criminal justice system needed more resources.

‘‘The statistics in terms of the downward trend in the percentage of trials disposed of in accordance with the criminal trial standards are alarming,’’ he said.

‘‘It is positive that a working party has been established between the public defenders, Legal Aid and the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions to attempt to address the delay. Ultimately, however, what is needed is greater judicial resources.’’

Comments are closed.