Author Wai-Yin Wan and Don Weatherburn
Published May 2017
Report Type Bureau Brief No. 127
Subject Court processes and delay
Keywords trial duration, court capacity, offence type, multi-level modelling, heterogeneous slopes

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To conduct an exploratory analysis of the factors influencing trial duration in the NSW District Criminal Court.


Bi-variate relationships between trial duration and various offence types were examined using one way analyses of variance, fixed effects modelling was employed to examine the joint effects of offence type, number of concurrent offences, year of case finalisation and registry on trial duration.


The average trial in the current study lasted 8.2 days, with a standard deviation of 8.6 days and a range of 138 days. Trials were found to be 20.2% shorter where the charges involve break and enter, 35.2% shorter where the charges involve illegal drugs, 44.8% shorter where the charges involve a traffic offence and 44.3% longer where the charges involve abduction.

The relationship between trial duration and offence type varied from registry to registry. The average sexual assault trial in Dubbo was 2.38 times longer than the average sexual assault trial in Sydney. Similarly, sexual assault trials in Gosford were found to be approximately 1.3 times longer than in Sydney. By contrast, cases involving sexual assault in Newcastle were, on average, only about 76 per cent of the length of such trials in Sydney. Fraud trials in Newcastle were 41 per cent shorter than the non-fraud trials in Newcastle and are only about 35 per cent of the length of the average fraud trial in Sydney.


Given the substantial variability in trial duration and the adverse consequences associated with insufficient capacity, courts should operate with spare capacity. Effective management of capacity will require improvements in our ability to predict trial duration. Further research should be conducted into the effects on trial duration of number of witnesses and the use of forensic and audio-visual evidence.

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