The Urgent Need for Criminal Courts in Western Australia
Tuesday, 20 April 2021
The Law Society of Western Australia has raised concerns with the State Attorney General about the shortage of courtrooms available for criminal trials, which is making the operation of the criminal justice system in this state almost unworkable. The Law Society calls on the McGowan Government to urgently commit to an additional four, but preferably seven, new Courts for criminal trials in Perth.
Law Society President Jocelyne Boujos said: “When the David Malcolm Justice Centre was built, it was designed to operate solely for civil cases and no criminal cases were to be permitted due to the leasing arrangements with the developer. This restriction has not assisted in managing the criminal case load in Western Australia in a timely manner, placing the system under great strain for reasons set out below. The Law Society is seeking a rapid and significant investment by the McGowan Government to ensure the criminal justice system runs smoothly, so that our community is delivered a fair and just system.”
Causes of the demand for courts in the criminal area
The Supreme Court of Western Australia is currently utilising a number of District Court of Western Australia courtrooms on a regular basis and has been doing so for the last few years. This has been working to a limited degree over time but, especially since coming out of the COVID-19 pandemic, it is becoming unworkable, as the courtrooms in the District Court building are at capacity, due to the following reasons:
- There is a backload of cases from the pandemic in 2020 and from the one week of lockdown in February 2021.
- The rate at which the Supreme Court is utilising the District Court buildings is increasing. For example, in the month of March 2021, there were six Supreme Court trials being conducted in the District Court building, most of which had multiple accused and were all lengthy in duration.
- The increase in workload and jurisdiction in the District Court over the past number of years has resulted in the District Court needing all their courtrooms to manage their jurisdiction.
- The nature of the prosecutions from historical sex cases, cold cases, significant improvements in forensic investigative techniques and an expansion of expert evidence have placed greater demands for interlocutory hearings and larger trials and an increase in trials and overall workload, more murder trials and applications and hearings under high-risk offender legislation. Ultimately this means that trials are more complex and lengthier and require more sitting days, and so each court is occupied for a long period of time.
Law Society President Jocelyne Boujos summarised: “Essentially, the system is overloaded and under great strain due to the limited infrastructure available at present and needs a rapid and significant investment by the McGowan Government. These new courtrooms are an urgent community need, which is intrinsically linked to the proper and timely administration of justice.”
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Manager Corporate Communications
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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.