Speed up the criminally slow lawyers

Lisa Davies | The Daily Telegraph | October 30, 2009 12:00AM

CRIMINAL lawyers are on notice to operate more efficiently under new laws that the State Government hopes will cut the length and cost of trials.

Attorney-General John Hatzistergos introduced the legislation into Parliament this week, saying too many cases ran for too long.

"Trials that run for months on end not only burden the criminal justice system and the taxpayer, they prolong the distress and anguish of victims of crime," Mr Hatzistergos said.

"These reforms will go a long way to cutting the unnecessary hold-ups."

Mr Hatzistergos said the new laws would streamline trial procedures to allow judges to:

* ORDER case management between parties before the trial;

* FORCE parties to disclose facts in dispute before the trial; and

* SET up pre-trial conferences in which parties would agree on admissible evidences.

However, the move was met with surprise by some practitioners, who said most of the measures were already ordered by judges and the move seemed completely unnecessary.

Criminal defence lawyer Patrick Conaghan said most parties would engage in pre-trial conferencing and discussions on evidence as a matter of course.

"This seems to be even further eroding the rights of the accused people," he said.

The Productivity Commission report of 2007/08 estimated that the average cost of finalising a criminal matter in the Supreme Court was $27,305.

The average length of a trial in the Supreme Court including hearings was five weeks.

Mr Hatzistergos said, in particular, cases were often drawn out by the presentation of unimportant or uncontested evidence which, if identified earlier, could lead to significant cuts in court time.

"The new measures seek to improve the overall efficiency of the criminal justice system," he said. "Some measures such as pre-trial case management already exist for complex cases but are simply not being used enough."

Solicitor Ben Archbold said many of the most expensive and long-running cases were those prosecuted by the Commonwealth Director of Public Prosecutions.

"It is in that jurisdiction where savings need to be made," Mr Archbold said.

"The state DPP actually run matters far more efficiently than their federal counterparts."

The NSW Government had set up a review last year in order to identify the causes of inefficiencies.

Mr Hatzistergos said the amendments to the Criminal Procedures Act 1986 (Case Management) would help to bring about change.

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