New case management approach leads to a reduction in court delay

Release date: 9th January, 2018, 10.30am

Full report: The NSW Rolling List Court Evaluation: Final Report, pdf 615Kb

A new case management approach trialed in the NSW District Criminal Court (NSW DCC) has led to a remarkable drop in delay and a big increase in early guilty pleas, according to a new report released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR).

Under the existing arrangements in the NSW DCC, different judges and lawyers may be involved at different points in the progress of a case to trial commencement or to sentence after a guilty plea.

Under the new approach, cases meeting certain criteria were randomly allocated either to the usual general trial list or to a special ‘rolling list court’ (RLC). Unlike cases in the usual list, cases referred to the RLC were dealt from start to finish by the same defence and prosecution lawyers and the same judge.
It was hoped that this new arrangement would lead to:

  • An increase in the proportion of cases committed for trial that are finalised on a plea of guilty;
  • More early guilty pleas, defined as pleas of guilty before the trial date;
  • Shorter trials;
  • Reduced time between committal for trial and trial start date.

More than half (56.0%) of the matters balloted to the RLC resulted in a guilty plea before the trial date, compared to 22.0 per cent of the matters randomised to the general list of the NSW DCC.

There were marked improvements in the average time taken to reach a guilty plea, to list matters for trial and to finalise matters. The average time from committal to finalisation for cases in the RLC was 262 days, compared with 364 days for cases randomly assigned to the general list, a reduction of 28 per cent.

The average time taken to enter a guilty plea in the RLC (151 days) was 31 per cent lower than among cases balloted to the general list (220 days).

Interviews with prosecution and defence lawyers indicated broad agreement that early guilty pleas occurred more often in the RLC because senior prosecutors who would take matters to trial were briefed early on, and therefore available to negotiate much earlier with their opposing counsel than they would be in the general list.

Defence practitioners in the court said that this gave them confidence that the charges, evidence and plea deals negotiated were unlikely to change between then and the trial date, as both sides were appropriately briefed and authorised, and had carriage of the matter until its resolution. Thus, incentives to delay in pleading guilty were removed as no better deals could be obtained by holding out until the day of the trial.

Further enquiries: Dr Don Weatherburn 8346-1100
Copies of the report: