Lismore District Court is experiencing some of the longest delays in the state according to a report by the NSW Law Reform Commission.
The report, entitled Encouraging Appropriate Early Guilty Pleas, was recently tabled in State Parliament, revealing the waiting list for criminal trials has blown out dramatically, with fewer judicial officers able to cope with the number of criminal trials pending.
Shadow Attorney General Paul Lynch said Lismore District Court covered areas such as Ballina, Grafton and Murwillumbah.
Mr Lynch demanded urgent action to solve the district court crisis, starting with funding for judicial officers to ease the backlog.
“The average wait from committal to outcome at Lismore District Court in 2014 was 401 days – astoundingly almost double the 206 day delay in 2013,” he said.
“That’s almost 100 days longer than the average delay in all NSW district court trials of 327.5 days – up from 288 days in 2013.
“Justice delayed is justice denied – these delays are bad for victims, bad for witnesses, and bad for our justice
system as a whole.
“The longer the delay, the longer a victim waits for justice, and the less reliable the memory of a witness will be – compromising the quality of justice and bringing the system into disrepute.”
Mr Lynch said the delays can’t go on.
“The District Court is drowning in a flood of trials each year, more than it is able to finalise,” he said.
“The Baird Government is drowning in rivers of stamp duty gold yet can’t find funds to employ more judicial officers to ease the backlog.”
NSW Attorney General Gabrielle Upton said the government was working hard to ensure the justice system is fast, fair and accessible.
“The 2015/16 NSW Budget provides more money to upgrade courts, expand the use of technology and better support child sexual assault victims,” she said.
“In particular, the Budget provides for the appointment of two additional judges to the District Court who will hear child sexual assault matters across the state, an increase in funding for Legal Aid NSW and an increase in funding for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions (DPP).”
Ms Upton said in addition, a working group including Legal Aid, the DPP, the NSW Police Force and the Public Defender’s Office had been formed to help address the increase in the District Court’s trial workload.
“The NSW Government is also closely considering the NSW Law Reform Commission’s recommendations to speed up pre-trial processes and encourage earlier guilty pleas – where appropriate,” she said.