Adjourned debate on second reading
(Continued from 11 April 2017)
The Hon. J.A. DARLEY ( 17:11 :15 ): I rise to provide my contribution to the bill. I understand that the impetus for the bill was to increase the efficiency of the courts, as there has historically been an incredible delay and backlog for cases to be heard. The Attorney indicated that 22 per cent of outstanding matters in the South Australian District Court have been pending for over 12 months and that there is a chronic issue with overlisting in the criminal courts.
The government has proposed a number of changes to improve the criminal process. Both parties will now be required to provide a case statement, in the hope that early disclosure of the information will result in negotiations which in turn will reduce the time the matter is in court. The bill also provides clarity on matters that the court should take into consideration when offering a sentence reduction. The bill was first raised at a briefing the Attorney offered to all members which involved former judge Michael David QC.
At this briefing, I indicated that, as a non-lawyer, the proposal seemed to reflect common sense and I was generally supportive of it. However, it has become clear that, in order for the government's proposal to be effective, more training and education needs to be provided to SAPOL, so that the information they gather during investigations is sufficient to secure a prosecution. The DPP is only as effective as the information they are provided with by SAPOL and if this is inadequate, the desired overall outcome will not be achieved. I have been advised that SAPOL will receive more training, and only time will tell whether or not this is enough.
Further, I am not entirely convinced that the changes proposed by the government will achieve what is being espoused. It seems that instead of the backlog being at the end of the criminal process, it will merely be at the beginning of the process. A real cynic may even suggest that this is merely an exercise to improve the statistics of the courts by delaying matters being listed. If matters are not listed, then the clock cannot start ticking and matters cannot be categorised as outstanding. However, this is a very cynical view.
I was pleased to see an article in The Advertiser recently that indicated that the new District Court Chief Judge, the Hon. Michael Evans, has implemented a number of administrative changes which have improved the productivity of the courts in the short time he has been in the position. I understand that in February, all but six trials started on time and in March this figure was reduced to just two. His approach has been described as a breath of fresh air, and it will be interesting to see whether these changes will be necessary at all in a few months.
However, I accept that there are benefits to all parties being involved in criminal matters, including the victim, for early disclosure of the information. It may mean that matters are resolved earlier, which means that victims and their families can start moving on. The criminal process is often very taxing on a victim who is often unfamiliar with the procedures. They can often feel that they are excluded from the process, as it is a matter of the state versus the accused, yet the outcome of the process has a direct impact on the victim. Whether an accused is guilty or is found guilty can go a long way to vindicating what has happened to the victim. If delays are minimised this can only be a good thing.
I have always been passionate about victims' rights, and today have instructed that amendments be filed in my name which will require the courts to be advised whether victims have been consulted or not if the prosecution changes the charge or decides not to proceed. I will speak more on this during the committee stage. I think it is worth noting, on the record, that the SA Bar Association has concerns about the bill; however, I understand they have now ultimately accepted the bill provided that the Liberal amendments are incorporated, and hope a compromised position can be reached so that this bill can proceed. With that I support the second reading of the bill.