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Western Australian Courts - the backlog crisis continues

Supreme Court near Stirling Gardens, Perth, WA

The pressure is mounting on the State Government to find solutions to the backlog in Western Australian courts.

For quite some time now the Western Australian courts have been in crisis delays for trial hearings. It has been more than a decade since it was revealed the WA District Court had the nation’s longest delays, due to a lack of resources and “systemic failure.”

In 2011, similar reports pointed to the fact that delays within the Western Australian Family Court had families waiting more than two years on average to have their cases heard. The Family Court was merged with the Federal Circuit Court last year. The Family Court is a national system, but different states have different issues, some of them cultural and historical. Family law matters are amongst the most complex and troubling in the legal system and there are a number of reforms underway to make it more efficient.

The impact on criminal trials

But now, lack of real progress and improvement has come into the spotlight again, with the WA State Government desperately trying to find four more courtrooms to deal with a backlog of criminal trials — a crisis compounded by several issues which prevent criminal trials from being held in the justice centre in the heart of the city.

Delays of course, have been compounded across the board, by the Covid-19 pandemic, during which many cases, jury trials in particular, were cancelled and adjourned. This is not an issue that’s isolated to Western Australia either, courts around the rest of the country are facing the same problem. And the solution is not straightforward.

A recent meeting attended by WA Chief Justice Peter Quinlan, District Court Chief Judge Julie Wager and Director of Public Prosecutions Amanda Forrester, among others, held key discussions about how delays can be dealt with, and procedures streamlined to ensure that those working in the justice system don’t end up overworked and overwhelmed.

Use of technology

Another important topic under discussion is why the justice centre is not being used. A major problem is security, which is paramount for criminal trials, despite the fact that the centre has state-of-the art technology, such as audio-visual capabilities which have become a preferred way for many court matters to be heard. With the uncertainty of Covid prevailing, audio-visual technology will continue to be frequently needed in future.

Australia’s busiest court, the Downing Centre in Sydney, embraced technology last year using emails and text messaging as well as teleconferencing (group phone calls) to ensure that those who needed access to the justice system, or had matters before the court could have them dealt with as soon as possible. The use of technology has been successful for directions hearings, appeals and bail applications.

‘Justice delayed is justice denied’

In the meantime, a range of options are being considered in Western Australia which is important because there is a legal maxim that says, “Justice delayed is justice denied”. Quite simply, this means that cases should be heard without any unnecessary and avoidable delays, otherwise, this leads to injustice for the accused person, and also for victims of crime both of whom remain in limbo, often with their lives ‘on hold’.

There are a range of reasons that cases should be heard in a timely manner including the fact that delays can potentially affect evidence or testimony, particularly in terms of keeping the recollection of incidents fresh in the minds of witnesses.

Added to this, court proceedings can be draining, emotionally and financially, particularly if the defendant has been remanded in custody.

Contact Us

If you are facing criminal charges and need representation from an experienced Criminal Lawyer, contact the Andrew Williams Criminal Law Offices without delay on (08) 9278 2575 or send an enquiry online.

PLEASE NOTE: The material in this blog post is for informational use only and should not be construed as legal advice. For answers to your questions regarding this or other topics, please contact a professional legal representative.

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