ACT Supreme Court Chief Justice Terence Higgins. Photo: Rohan Thomson
Fresh data showing improved efficiency in the ACT Supreme Court hearing and finalising matters could become permanent if a fifth judge was appointed, according to the ACT's outgoing top judge.
Retiring Chief Justice of the ACT Supreme Court Terence Higgins was farewelled at a ceremonial sitting on Friday. Chief Justice Higgins dedicated a section of his departure oration to what he termed the ''Chief Justice's Lament'', the need for a fifth judge and new court complex.
Attorney-General Simon Corbell on Friday released figures showing the amount of time it took to have a matter heard in the ACT Supreme Court had almost halved over the past year. In August, the average time to the next hearing was 8.6 months, compared with 15.8 months the same time last year. In 2012-13, there were 92 criminal matters awaiting finalisation for more than a year.
The figure is a reduction of 47 per cent on the previous year, when there were 174 criminal matters pending. Civil matters pending for more than a year also dropped by 31 per cent.
Mr Corbell also reported reserved judgments had almost halved and the number of new cases received by the Supreme Court also declined. Mr Corbell attributed some of the improvements to the introduction of the docket system in 2012, which improved efficiency by ensuring that each case was managed by a single judge from start to finish.
Despite the improvements, Chief Justice Higgins said the appointment of a fifth resident judge was inevitable. He said the recent gains were the result of measures put in place through collaboration between judges, court staff and the government, including the docket system and the blitz on the court's backlog.
''[But] It is important to consider new and more permanent solutions to decrease the backlog,'' he said.
''I suggest that it is possible, although I have not done the sums myself, that the costs involved in appointing visiting and additional judges may go some way towards funding the cost of a permanent judicial appointment to the court.''
He also agitated the case for a new court facility to replace the outdated Supreme Court building, which celebrated its 50th anniversary in May.
''A new building is crucial for the court properly to discharge its role in the public interest.''
Chief Justice Higgins urged his successor, Judge Helen Murrell, to continue the quest.