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Trial Court Delay and the NSW District Criminal Court

Full report: Trial Court Delay and the NSW District Criminal Court, pdf 800kb

Embargo 10.30AM Monday 24 August 2015

The time taken to finalise criminal trial cases in the NSW District Criminal Court has grown substantially over the last few years, according to a new report on trial court delay released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

In 2007, it took, on average, 276 days for a case to move from committal for trial to finalisation where the accused was out on bail. In 2014 it took, on average, 369 days to finalise a case committed for trial where the accused was on bail. This is 34 per cent higher than in 2007.

The growth in trial court delay for custody cases (i.e. cases where the defendant is in custody awaiting trial) has been even greater. In 2007 the average time between committal for trial and case finalisation for custody cases in the District Court was 209 days. Last year it was 300 days; an increase of 44 per cent.

According to the Bureau's report, the District Court's problems started back in 2010, when new trial cases began arriving faster than old cases were being disposed of. This lead to a rapid build-up in the size of the Court's pending trial caseload and a consequent increase in delay.

The Bureau attributes the gap between new trial cases registered and trials finalised in the District Criminal Court to three factors: (1) a growth in persons arrested for serious (strictly indictable) offences (2) an increase in the proportion of cases registered for trial that are actually proceeding to trial and (3) a growth in trial duration.

Commenting on the findings, the director of the Bureau, Dr Don Weatherburn, said the Government had a range of options open to it to deal with the problem.

"One option would be to find ways of encouraging earlier guilty pleas, since this would reduce the trial workload of the District Criminal Court."

"Another option is to look for offences that are currently being dealt with in the District Court but which attract penalties within the sentencing discretion of the Local Court or, alternatively, to increase the sentencing powers of the Local Court so that it can deal with more serious offences."

"A third option would be to expand the capacity of the NSW District Court, by appointing more judges, defence lawyers and prosecutors." 

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 8346 1100

Copies of the report: www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au