Victorians denied justice by slow court system

Justice delayed is justice denied in Victoria’s courts, which under Labor remain amongst the slowest in Australia according to a Productivity Commission report released today.

“The Attorney-General’s hollow boasts about justice are empty words to the thousands of Victorians who are caught up in Victoria’s system and struggling to obtain justice,” Shadow Attorney-General Robert Clark said.

“Victoria’s bulging criminal courts waiting lists include the biggest backlogs in Australia for Supreme Court appeals, County Court non-appeal cases and Children’s Court cases and the percentage of Supreme Court non-appeal cases waiting more than 12 months.

“Almost all waiting lists have dramatically worsened since 2003, while over the same time period most NSW waiting lists have improved.

“Years of waiting to have cases heard have created massive trauma and distress for victims, their families and witnesses, as well as those who may have serious charges hanging over their heads and yet may ultimately be found not guilty.

“Instead of giving Victoria’s courts proper administrative support and modern systems and facilities, the Attorney-General has overseen massive cost blowouts and delays in programs such as the Criminal Justice Enhancement Program (CJEP) which he claimed would reduce court waiting lists and speed up the justice system.

“The Attorney-General should have used the tens of millions of dollars wasted on his complex and dangerous Charter of Human Rights to pay for more experienced prosecutors and defence lawyers and upgrade court administration.

“The lack of proper support for Victoria’s courts means judges are being moved from one problem area to another, with any improvements coming at the cost of deteriorations somewhere else.

“The NSW experience shows that courts can be run much better than they are currently being run in Victoria.

“Instead of posturing and grandstanding, the Attorney-General needs to do the hard work of running his portfolio and making sure Victoria’s courts are given the support they need so victims, their families, witnesses, accused persons and all other litigants can have their cases heard without unreasonable delay,” Mr Clark said.


Justice delayed is justice denied: Victoria’s long court waiting lists

The Productivity Commission’s Report on Government Services 2009 (Table 7A.17, and comparison with 2003 from Report on Government Services 2008) shows that for criminal cases as at 30 June 2008:

• there were 489 Supreme Court appeal cases waiting to be heard in Victoria compared with 432 cases last year and 337 cases in June 2003. This is the highest number in Australia. Over the same period, the backlog of appeals in NSW fell from 242 to just 210;

• of those 489 cases, 95 cases (or more than 19 per cent) had been waiting more than 12 months to be heard, far and away the highest percentage of any state in Australia. It compares to just 13 cases in New South Wales (6.2 per cent) and three cases (1.7 per cent) in Queensland;

• the backlog of non-appeal Supreme Court cases was 166, compared with just 56 cases in June 2003. NSW had 105 pending cases, down from 139 in 2003. More than one-third (33.7 per cent – 56 cases) of Victoria’s cases had been waiting for more than 12 months, the highest proportion in Australia;

• in the County Court, there were 946 appeal cases waiting to be heard, compared with just 510 in 2003. 89 of these cases had been waiting for more than 12 months, compared with 44 cases in 2003;

• there were 2,341 non-appeal County Court cases waiting to be heard, the highest number in Austalia, and up from 1,722 in 2003. Of these, 641 cases or 27.4 per cent, had been waiting for more than 12 months, compared with 17.2 per cent waiting more than 12 months in 2003. In contrast, only 145 cases or 8.3 per cent of comparable cases were waiting more than 12 months in NSW;

• Victoria’s Magistrates Courts have the second largest backlog of cases of any jurisdiction in Australia, with 34,701 cases waiting to be heard, up from 26,633 in 2003. Of these, more than 8,466 cases or 24.4 per cent had been waiting more than 6 months to be heard, compared with 2,206 cases or 11.2 per cent in New South Wales; and

• Victoria’s Children’s Courts have the largest backlog in Australia, with 5,591 cases waiting to be heard, up from 4,398 last year. The nearest of any other state is Queensland with 2,374 cases.

Victorians also face long waits for Supreme Court civil appeals to be heard. As at June last year, there were 348 appeals waiting to be heard, up from 170 in 2003. Of these, 93 cases or 26.7 per cent had been waiting more than 12 months, the highest number of any jurisdiction except Western Australia. (Table 7A.18).