Australian Institute of Criminology

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Criminal trial delays in Australia : trial listing outcomes

Research and public policy series no. 74

Jason Payne
ISBN 978 1 921185 32 8 ISSN 1326-6004
Canberra: Australian Institute of Criminology, January 2007

Abstract

This research examines the reasons for which criminal trials in Australia fail to proceed on the day of listing. The rationale of such an inquiry is that matters that fail to proceed as scheduled contribute to backlog and delay, both of which consume significant criminal justice resources. Moreover, delay in the criminal trial system may result in adverse effects, not the least of which is the anguish endured by the victims of crime and their families, and the community demanding protection from criminal offenders. This research used quantitative data from courts across a number of Australian states and territories to demonstrate that more than half of all listed criminal trials fail to commence on the listed day. After an analysis of data about trials and extensive interviews with court administrators, it is found that those trials that do not proceed can be placed into two categories: those trials that are finalised on or near the trial date either by way of late guilty plea or late withdrawal by the prosecution, and those trials that are adjourned and re-listed. While some delays will be inevitable, the report builds on recommendations made by a working group of the Standing Committee of Attorneys-General to suggest ways of reducing the backlog of criminal trials across Australia.