ACT News


ACT Bar Association calls for investigation in Supreme Court blitz

Money spent on the ''blitz'' on criminal cases in the ACT Supreme Court could be better spent on a fifth judge, a peak legal body says.

The ACT Bar Association called for a ''considered'' cost benefit analysis on whether the price of the initiative could be used on more efficient and effective measures to reduce backlogs in the jurisdiction.

But the ACT government has again rejected appointing a fifth judge, saying the cost would be too much. The Pilot Central Criminal Listing, known as the ''mini-blitz'', was announced by new Supreme Court Chief Justice Helen Murrell in November.

It involves the intensive listing of criminal trials before the ACT's Supreme Court judges over seven weeks, from late February to April.

The aim is to mimic the success of a 2012 blitz, which cut through one-fifth of outstanding criminal cases at a cost of $1.2 million to the ACT government.

It is unknown how much the current mini-blitz is expected to cost, but the ACT government has provided no extra funding to the court for its execution. The court also plans to conduct three further smaller blitzes throughout the year.


Bar president Greg Stretton, SC, used his report in the March edition of the ACT Bar Bulletin to call for an investigation into the pros and cons of the initiative.

Mr Stretton said a questionnaire would be circulated to bar members in the coming weeks, but private feedback expressed unease.

He said concerns included barristers having to return briefs due to scheduling clashes, which could compromise the ''integrity of the relationship between an accused person and their legal counsel''.

''Efficiency should always come second to the interest of justice, and the former should never be considered in isolation of the latter,'' he wrote.

Mr Stretton said a fifth judge, permanent or on secondment from another jurisdiction, could be a more effective and efficient way to spend the cash lavished on the current blitz.

''It would provide a means of achieving a reduction in the backlog by way of a more orderly and methodical way, rather than have listing processes governed by the reality or perception of a crisis in the state of the criminal lists of the Supreme Court.''

But acting Attorney-General Katy Gallagher said a fifth judge would too expensive, costing about $1 million a year for the tenure of the judge, with extra costs for a pension following retirement.

''The government's position is that at the moment, the significant cost of a fifth judge is not warranted because existing measures are steadily reducing wait times and backlog,'' Ms Gallagher said.

ACT Director of Public Prosecutions Jon White used the legal bulletin to declare the pilot listing was shaping up as an outstanding success.

But he said the seven-week period had been ''too long'' and suggested the Magistrates Court list non-criminal matters during the period to reduce the workload on his staff.

''My officers are frankly exhausted. Coordination of listing between the courts will benefit both courts and the profession,'' Mr White wrote.