NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman announced the appointment of seven new judges to the District Court last week, citing the current backlog of cases as a significant issue that needed to be addressed. The new appointments are just one aspect of a $148 million dollar package aimed at delivering swifter justice and reducing pressure on the judiciary.
Following the new appointments, the District Court will have 75 permanent judges, the highest number on record.
The backlog of District Court cases has doubled over the last six years.
In 2017 the time between an accused being arrested, standing trial and sentenced peaked at 710 days – almost two years. The average wait time currently stands at 690 days, a number which Mr Speakman labelled ‘unacceptable’ during a press conference last week.
The judicial system is under stress, with around 2000 cases currently awaiting trial in the District Court. Mr Speakman attributed the delays to the increasing complexity of the cases that come before the District Court; particularly sexual assault cases which account for around 50% of contested caseloads.
The delays may be detrimental for an accused, particularly those being held on remand who may eventually be acquitted. They are equally unfair for witnesses and victims who are forced to wait extended periods of time before telling their story in court.
The appointment of new judges is just one aspect of a $148 million funding package that was announced by the State Government last week. The four-year package will include:
· $63 million for new judges, court staff, jury costs and security upgrades to courthouses.
· $45 million for additional crown prosecutors, lawyers and Witness Assistance Service officers at the DPP and improvements to regional offices.
· $34.5 million for new senior lawyers at Legal Aid NSW, and more grants for private practitioners representing legally aided clients and improvements to regional offices.
· $5.4 million for court prisoner transfers.
NSW Bar Association President Arthur Moss SC said he welcomed the allocation of additional resources. However, he reinforced that the NSW Bar Association was of the view that “a comprehensive review of the court’s jurisdiction, structure and processes is required to identify systematic issues that may affect the proper and timely administration of justice”.
The NSW Bar Association has provided the Attorney-General with draft terms of reference with the hope that the Government will institute such a review.
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