Sentence discount on offer for smooth criminal trials
Criminals convicted after a trial could be eligible for a lighter sentence if they make sure their case runs smoothly, under a plan to help the delay-plagued ACT Supreme Court avoid another backlog crisis.
The proposed legislation, announced today, comes amid the ''blitz'' on cases in the territory's higher court and is one of several measures to help the court reduce unnecessary delays. Attorney-General Simon Corbell said the changes, requested by Chief Justice Terence Higgins, would be presented to the Legislative Assembly this week.
Under the proposal, people found guilty at the end of a trial in either the Supreme Court or the Magistrates Court would be eligible for a discount for ''facilitating the administration of justice''.
The idea is based on a provision in NSW's sentencing laws which allow a judicial officer to take into account steps taken by the defence, either before or during the trial.
''If the accused doesn't argue every single issue but is prepared to say, look these are the issues in dispute and helps facilitate a more timely trial, the court can take that into account when it comes to sentencing,'' Mr Corbell said.
''It's been a very effective mechanism in other jurisdictions, to focus the court's time on the issues that are in dispute, remove extraneous matters, and there's some incentive on the part of the accused to co-operate in that process.''
The territory's sentencing legislation already states the court must take into account a guilty plea and the benefits of avoiding a costly and traumatic trial.
But under the new proposal, defendants could receive a discount by limiting the key issues - for example self-defence or identity - early on in the proceedings.
The legislation won't mandate particular discounts, with the discretion left to judicial officers interpreting case law.
The bill to be presented this week will also give magistrates the power to order a pre-sentence report when committing an offender for sentence in the Supreme Court.
Such reports take weeks to produce, and Mr Corbell said ordering their preparation before the case goes to the higher court would reduce unnecessary delays.
And changes will also be made requiring a defendant to elect for a trial by judge alone earlier in proceedings, before they've been allocated a judge under the court's new docket system.
The docket system, unveiled by the Supreme Court in late December, will see cases allocated to a single judge throughout the pre-trial hearings to ensure the trial judge is intimately familiar with the issues at stake and able to head off delays.
The scheme dovetailed with the much-touted blitz on the court's lists, which has so far seen many criminal matters resolved with pleas and civil cases being settled on the court steps.
In the first three weeks of the blitz, 26 of the 56 civil matters listed were settled; another seven matters went to hearing and had decisions reserved, with three of those already handed down.
Of the 23 criminal matters listed in the same stretch, 10 ended with pleas of guilty, often to downgraded charges. Another four were withdrawn by the Crown and four went to trial.
The blitz and the docket system were introduced to address systemic delays, with cases languishing before the Supreme Court for years before being resolved - sometimes while defendants remained in custody.
Mr Corbell said the results showed the initiative was working.
''It is dramatically reducing the number of long-wait cases and I thank the profession and the DPP and Legal Aid for the work they have done with the court to achieve this excellent result,'' he said.