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Criminal Case Conferencing

 

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Release date: 8 July, 2010

A trial scheme introduced by the NSW Government to reduce the number of late guilty pleas has had only limited effects, according to research by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

The criminal case conferencing (CCC) scheme requires representatives of the defence and prosecution to convene a conference prior to the committal hearing.

If the defendant pleads guilty prior to committal, the legislation states that the sentencing court must allow a 25 per cent discount on the sentence that would otherwise have been imposed. If the defendant pleads guilty after committal, the legislation states that the sentencing court may, under prescribed circumstances, allow a discount of up to 12.5 per cent.

The Criminal Case Conferencing (CCC) trial scheme was expected to produce four outcomes:

  1. A reduction in the number of trial case registrations in the District Court;
  2. An increase in the proportion of sentence case registrations in the District Court;
  3. An increase in the proportion of defendants committed for trial in the District Court whose cases actually proceed to trial; and
  4. A decrease in the number of cases where the accused changes his/her plea from 'not guilty' to 'guilty' on or about the first day of the trial.

The Bureau evaluated the CCC scheme by comparing trends in (1) to (4) in the Sydney District Court (where the CCC trial took place) with corresponding trends in courts outside Sydney.

Only one of the four measures showed effects consistent with a reduction in late guilty pleas. There was a small decrease in trial registrations in the intervention site (less than 1% per week) but no corresponding reduction in the comparison site.

If all of this decrease were attributable to the CCC scheme, it would reflect a reduction of 23 trials in the year following the introduction of the CCC scheme.

There are three possible explanations for the failure of the CCC scheme to exert much influence on outcomes (1) to (4). Firstly, it is possible that the legislative version of the CCC scheme confers no benefits beyond those already conferred by the administrative version of the scheme that preceded it (which operated in both Sydney and non-Sydney courts).

A second possibility is that the CCC scheme was never implemented consistently enough to influence the outcomes being measured. Despite being compulsory, conferences were not always held in a matters where they should have been.

The third possibility is that the defendants and/or their legal representatives may be skeptical about the promise of significant sentence discounts for a plea of guilty. It is, after all, impossible for any defendant to know with certainty what sentence would have been imposed had the discount not been applied.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn, 9231-9190, 0419-494-408