A report by the ACT Auditor General slamming the Territory’s courts for inefficiency and slowness was released last Thursday.
Among other things, the report found the ACT Magistrates Court was the slowest in the country, with only 16.8 per cent of cases being finalised in under six weeks and 25 per cent of cases running for more than six months; the Supreme Court only sat for about one-third of the planned number of trial days last year; the ACT Children’s Court was the most expensive to run in the country and that poor human resource management existed in the courts with a lack of senior court officers and a high number of staff in acting or temporary positions.
On the same day, a magistrate said it was the police’s fault it had taken four years for a man to be sentenced on charges of burglary.
Following the release of this report, accusations flew left, right and centre yesterday, with both the government and the judiciary saying the problems are the other’s fault.
The ACT Attorney General (who also happens to be our esteemed leader Jon Stanhope) said it’s the responsibilty of the chief magistrate and chief justice to ensure the courts run efficiently — both timewise and financially (they’ve been over budget by about $2 million the past four years). He also complained about the magistrates only sitting in court for an average of two hours a day, as found by the report. (Anyone know how many days our MLAs sit for a year? This year there’s 48 sitting days plus two weeks of estimates hearings scheduled).
Supreme Court Chief Justice Terry Higgins responded with accusations of the government underfunding the court system and under-resourcing the police (read more about budget cuts to the courts here).
Mr Stanhope said that because of the doctrine of separation of powers, he and the government cannot be held responsible for bad administration of the courts (how convenient) and could not tell the chief justice and chief magistrate how to run their courts.
However Chief Justice Higgins pointed out that the administration of the courts is actually run through the government department of Justice and Community Safety.
In the end it seems the only thing from the Auditor General’s report they can agree on is that the Attorney General, Chief Justice of the Supreme Court and Chief Magistrate should have regular meetings to oversee the system’s reform. Mr Stanhope said they would be meeting every three months from now on.