WAITING times for District Court criminal trials have blown out to almost 12 months in Tamworth, with the chief judge announcing a special emergency sitting to try and speed up case times.
Alleged offenders in the Tamworth and Gunnedah areas committed for trial this month will have to wait until the earliest trial date in November or December 2014 after a 50 per cent spike in trial case loads.
And the desperate situation in Tamworth is being felt elsewhere with many country courts like Armidale unable to hear trials before the last quarter of 2014.
A short one-off callover sitting has been announced in April for Tamworth and Armidale to try and alleviate the problem.
But the waiting times fall drastically short of the District Court’s benchmark to have 90 per cent of trials commence within six months of committal.
According to the NSW District Court’s Strategic Plan, it had to change the benchmark from four to a target of six months because “even after our best efforts over the last 17 years, we have not been able to achieve the more ambitious goal.”
The NSW District Court released a statement to The Leader in relation to the growing backlog which is having a “serious impact.”
“The NSW District Court has experienced a 50 per cent increase in the court’s criminal trial case load which is having a serious impact on court listings across the state,” the statement read.
“As a result of this spike, many country courts are currently unable to list trials until September and October next year.
“The Chief Judge of the NSW District Court, Justice Reg Blanch, will visit Tamworth, Armidale and Port Macquarie in April 2014 with an attempt to reduce trial waiting times where possible.”
The Leader understands a representative from the Office of Director of Public Prosecutions will also attend the sittings, however the ODPP refused to comment on the issue.
The most recent District Court sittings in Tamworth had more than 35 cases listed including two trials, one of which fell through when both the accused pleaded guilty on the scheduled day.
In the October sittings, upwards of 45 cases were listed to be heard in the court.
The backlog has steadily been brewing but this financial year the court sittings have been reduced.
In the 2012-13 financial year, Tamworth District Court sat for 13 weeks while in the 2013-14 year, the same court is only scheduled to sit for 12 weeks.
The backlog of criminal trials is also being felt in the Hunter where three judges will preside over the first three sitting weeks in 2013, while extra sittings
have been announced in East Maitland.