Call for wider implementation of NSW program reducing court delays

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A program that’s producing “spectacular” results in reducing delays in the New South Wales District Court is gaining support for wider implementation.
 
Don Weatherburn, the director of the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR), told The Canberra Times that the pioneering trial has “produced some spectacular improvements in criminal case processing” in the District Court.
 
The results encouraged BOCSAR to call for an expansion of the program called the Rolling List Court (RLC) which was started April last year.
 
Under the program, a dedicated District Court judge – in this case, former defence barrister Ian McClintock ­­– and prosecution and defence teams are assigned to manage criminal cases much earlier compared to the normal process.
 
A BOCSAR report released on Tuesday said that the “success of the RLC to date is promising.”
 
“Matters assigned to the [RLC] result in more early guilty pleas and are finalised sooner than matters which go through the normal court system,” BOCSAR wrote.
The agency said that 63% of matters dealt with by the RLC resulted in a guilty plea compared to 41% of matters dealt with by the control courts.
 
The report also noted that by July this year, 65% of the cases involved in the RLC pilot program had been finalised in contrast to 37% in the control courts. It also said that a much smaller proportion of RLC matters (16%) were still awaiting trial or were currently being tried compared with control group matters (44%).
 
The agency wrote:
“Perhaps the most notable effect is the difference between the two groups in terms of the timing of these guilty pleas. A guilty plea was entered within 3 months of ballot for nearly one in five (18%) of all the RLC matters. This compares with just 5% of matters dealt with in the control courts. In over half of the RLC matters, a guilty plea was entered before the trial had been listed or commenced. In the control group, nearly one in four matters resulted in a guilty plea on the first day of the trial or after the trial had begun. For matters where a guilty plea was entered, the average number of days from ballot to plea was 144 days (median 114 days) in the case of matters assigned to the RLC, compared with 174 days (median 184 days) for matters assigned to the control courts. The latter difference is not statistically significant. However, this is potentially an unfair comparison given that there are currently a large number of cases in the control courts still awaiting trial, many of which could result in a late plea.”
 
According to BOCSAR, “even a limited expansion of the RLC would be expected to significantly reduce the overall demand for criminal court time.”
 
Nonetheless, there are impediments to an expansion of the program in its current form, said the organisation. One is that it requires defence and prosecution counsel specifically assigned to the court. Another is that there is a financial benefit for private counsel paid a salary by the state to prolong matters, though the practice may not be widespread.
 
In an interview, Attorney-General Gabrielle Upton told The Canberra Times that the state government will consider the “impressive results” of the RLC in its “ongoing efforts to make justice faster, fairer and more accessible.”
 
The 2016-17 budget contains provisions for the program, Upton said.
 

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