Efficiency in the Higher Criminal Court System

Publication Date01 June 1984
Date01 June 1984
DOI10.1177/000486588401700201
SubjectEditorial
AUST
&NZ
JOURNAL
OF CRIMINOLOGY (June 1984) 17 (65-66)
EDITORIAL
65
Efficiency in the Higher Criminal Court System
In the world of criminal justice administration, as in so many
other
areas of
human
endeavour, emphases, priorities and reform causes often vary according to
the
mysterious dictates of fashion.
One
of the criminal justice reform fashions of
the
moment
among Australian governments is an assault on the delays experienced in
bringing criminal cases to trial and also the length and cost of these trials when they
are
actually brought on. Complicated, mostly white collar, trials are receiving
special attention in this context. It is perhaps one of the ironies of
our
federated
criminal justice systems that while individual jurisdictions seem to be drifting
further
and
further
apart
in their substantive criminal law and criminal justice
systems once aparticular jurisdiction decides to reform an aspect of its system
other
jurisdictions seem to quickly follow suit. This is particularly the case at
the
present
in relation to trial length, cost and delay. Most jurisdictions are now actively
involved in looking for solutions to these problems.
If, for example,
one
looks at the two most populous jurisdictions, New South
Wales
and
Victoria,
the
concern for efficiency is clear. In New South Wales
the
Law
Reform
Commission has a major Reference on Criminal Procedure
and
one
of
the
primary emphases is upon the cost and efficiency of procedures which affect
the
conduct of a trial. In addition, the Criminal Law Review Division of
the
Department
of the Attorney-General and of Justice is in the process of producing
a very important
report
on the tape-recording of police interviews with crime
suspects. Presumably,
one
major objective of this task is to produce asystem which
will reduce the enormous amount of time taken up in higher court criminal trials in
testing
the
admissibility of confessional evidence. New South Wales has also
recently introduced a system of
"paper
committals" aimed at reducing
the
considerable time
and
cost involved in conducting oral preliminary hearings.
In Victoria,
the
Legal and Constitutional Committee of the Victorian Parliament
is engaged in an extensive investigation into delays in the criminal courts.
The
Shorter
Criminal Trials Committee of the Victorian
Bar
Council, which is also a
committee of
the
Australian Institute of Judicial Administration, is examining trial
and
pre-trial procedures, as well as committal hearings, with a view to cutting down
on
the
time and cost involved. There is also a high level committee specifically
looking at the special problems involved with white-collar trials.
The
Victorian
Government
itself is clearly worried about delays, costs and general inefficiency in
the
court system. This was emphasized on 6 March when the
Attorney-General,
Mr J H Kennan delivered amajor Ministerial Statement on Delays in the Courts.
The
attention which is finally being given to these issues on a concerted basis in
Australia is welcome and overdue but there are numerous hazards which must be
guarded against.
The
essence of the problem has been stated by the
present
writer
and
the Assistant
Editor
of this Journal as authors of a recently published
book
on
criminal justice in Australia:
The primary consideration in any assessment of our criminal trial system must be the issue of fairness
and, in particular, the question of whether the system provides an accused person with sufficient
enforceable rights to make the trial a proper contest between more or less equally placed parties.
There
is a distinct danger in the present climate of opinion that issues of cost and efficiency, which must be of
secondary consideration, will become the tail which wags the criminal court trial dog.'
1. Sallmann, P A and Willis, J E Criminal Justice in Australia. Oxford University Press, 1984.

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