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The effect of moving offences from the District Court to the Local Court on court delay and sentencing

Release Date: 10:30am Thursday 1 October 2020

Link to report summary

A legislative change allowing a selection of break and enter offences to be heard in the Local Court has delivered a reduction in court delay, a reduction in District Court workload and a reduction in imprisonment according to a new evaluation released today by the NSW Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research (BOCSAR). 

Between 2012 and 2016 NSW experienced large increases in District Court workload and District Court delay.  Over this period, trial committals increased by 35% and time from charge to trial finalisation increased 39% to 719 days.  One of the reforms implemented to respond to this problem was the Table Offences Reform. 

The first wave of the Table Offences Reform reclassified four strictly-indictable break and enter offences allowing them to be resolved in the Local Court.  Prior to the reform, these offences could only be heard in the Higher Courts. 

The reform has been successful in meeting its objectives. In the 2 years after the introduction of the reform:

  • 85% of eligible offences were diverted from the District Court, resulting in 62 fewer trials and 509 fewer sentence finalisations in the District Court.
  • The median time from charge to finalisation was 206 days, compared with 404 days pre-reform.

An unintended consequence of the reform has been a significant reduction in custodial penalties: 

  • Among those found guilty, the rate of imprisonment decreased from 67% pre-reform to 59% post-reform.
  • Prison duration also fell with 46% of guilty people receiving a prison penalty longer than 12 months pre-reform versus only 16% post-reform.

Commenting on the findings, BOCSAR Executive Director, Jackie Fitzgerald, said the change in imprisonment appears to be influenced by both a reduction in time spent on remand and different sentencing practices in the Local Court.  "In terms of the main findings, the effectiveness of the Table Offences Reform in reducing District Court delay and demand is particularly impressive given the simplicity of the reform."

Further enquiries: Jackie Fitzgerald, Executive Director 0423 139 687
Email: bcsr@justice.nsw.gov.au
Copies of the report: www.bocsar.nsw.gov.au