Extra District Court judges to ease pressure on NSW judiciary
NSW Attorney-General Mark Speakman says the District Court in particular will benefit from extra funding. (ABC News)
Seven extra permanent judges will be appointed to the District Court of New South Wales to ease pressure on the judiciary and help cut through a mounting backlog of cases.
The new judges form part of a $148 million package announced by the State Government which also includes funding for more crown prosecutors, court staff and regional courthouse upgrades.
Attorney-General Mark Speakman said it was “unacceptable” victims, witnesses and accused involved in contested trials were waiting an average of 690 days between arrest and sentencing.
“Justice delayed is justice denied,” Mr Speakman said.
“Investing in measures to reduce trial delays will minimise trauma for victims and witnesses.”
Mr Speakman said judicial officers were under “enormous stress” because of an increasing workload, and faced vicarious trauma from distressing matters.
“The extra recourses come at a critical time for the District Court, when caseloads are significant and may further increase following the Royal Commission Into Institutional Responses To Child Sexual Abuse,” Mr Speakman said.
“I hope these reforms will go some way to relieving the stress on judicial officers and court users.”
More crown prosecutors, lawyers on the way
Under the four-year funding package, $63 million will go towards the new judge positions, sheriff officers, court staff, jury cost and security upgrades.
With the additional judges expected to bring about faster trials, $45 million will be allocated for more crown prosecutors, lawyers and Witness Assistance Services officers.
Money will also fund new senior lawyers at Legal Aid NSW and improvements to regional courthouses to make them suitable for District Court trials and hearings.
The Chief Judge of the District Court, Justice Derek Michael Price AM, said he worked closely with Mr Speakman to obtain the additional resources and was “delighted” by the announcement.
“The package announced today will enable the court to provide additional sittings, particularly in regional NSW,” he said in a statement.
“It will also ease the burden on existing judges whose welfare and wellbeing has always been my priority as Chief Judge.”
NSW Bar Association president Arthur Moses SC said extra resources would help “alleviate the pressures” on judges who faced a “crushing” workload, but called for an urgent review of the District Court’s structure and processes.
“The Bar Association is also of the view that a comprehensive review of court’s jurisdiction, structure and processes is required to identify systemic issues that may affect the proper and timely administration of justice,” he said.
“We have prepared and provided the Attorney-General with draft terms of reference for a comprehensive review of the court and its practices, and urge the Government to institute such a review as soon as possible.”