Thursday, 17 June 2021
In April 2021, the Law Society of Western Australia issued a media statement raising its concerns about the shortage of courtrooms available for criminal trials and the consequent delays in trials in Western Australia. Yesterday, The West Australian also reported on this in an editorial “Trial delays unfair on victims and families” and article, “Court clause for concern”, and confirmed that Attorney General John Quigley had recently called a crisis meeting with senior judges and public servants to discuss how the government can address the shortage of courtrooms and the delays.
The West Australian reported that trial delays in WA’s Supreme Court were more than 60 per cent over target late last year — leaving victims and accused waiting an average of a year for cases to go before a jury.
There are several reasons for these delays. The already serious backload of cases was exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic when jury trials were cancelled. The nature of prosecutions has also changed over time in that trials are more complex and lengthier and require more sitting days, and so each court is occupied for a long period of time.
Regrettably, the David Malcolm Justice Centre can only be used for civil matters, and no criminal cases can be heard in those court rooms, as stipulated by a clause in the lease agreement signed by the State Government. The renegotiation of the lease is in all likelihood unrealistic, and an appropriate long-term solution should be costed while interim short-term solutions are implemented.
Law Society President Jocelyne Boujos said: “There is a legal maxim that says, ‘Justice delayed is justice denied’. This means that cases should be heard without unnecessary delay, as to do otherwise leads to great injustice for the accused person. Prolonged delays in hearing criminal matters have a severe impact on victims of crime and their families, financially and mentally. The community will not be able to trust our justice system when it is broken and in crisis. These new courtrooms are an urgent community need. The Law Society appreciates the fact that the Attorney General John Quigley recently called a crisis meeting to discuss the delays, but reinforces its call on the McGowan Government to resolve this issue swiftly, to ensure that the community is delivered a fair and just system.”
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The Law Society of Western Australia is the peak professional association for lawyers in the State. The Society is a not-for-profit association dedicated to the representation of its more than 4,000 members. The Society enhances the legal profession through its position as a respected leader and contributor on law reform, access to justice and the rule of law. The Society is widely acknowledged by the legal profession, government and the community as the voice of the legal profession in Western Australia.