Court delays ‘unsatisfactory’, says Bar Association

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The NSW Bar Association has called for additional judges to be appointed to the District Court judiciary to address the extensive delays in criminal trials.

The calls follow the release of a report by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research, which revealed that finalisation time of criminal cases where the defendant is on bail has increased by a third since 2007, and even more for matters where the accused is in custody.

While there are a number of factors for the delay, the NSW Bar Association considers the lack of judicial resources to be a major cause.

“A significant factor for the accused on remand is the prospect of spending up to 300 days in custody awaiting a trial, which may result in an acquittal.  This is clearly unsatisfactory,” said Bar Association president Jane Needham.

“So far as the District Court is concerned, it is faced with a major challenge in trying to address this backlog within existing resources.  Although measures such as encouraging early guilty pleas may have some utility, it is clear to the Association that the delays can only be addressed by structural change including additional judicial resources.”

With a 300 day waiting period on average, Needham said delays are particularly concerning where the accused is in custody. 
“Delays are only getting worse,” she said.

“We have a presumption of innocence in our criminal justice system, yet delays in the court mean that individuals are spending an average of 300 days in custody before their case is resolved, at which point they may be found not guilty.”

“This also has substantial cost implications for the corrections system.”

“While the Attorney General’s recent appointment of two judges to the Court to specifically deal with sexual assault matters is welcomed, more judicial officers are desperately needed to deal with the chronic delays in the District Court’s criminal list,” Needham added.

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