The underfunding of legal aid is having a direct impact on our justice system.
The backlog in the Supreme Court is not new news.
Issues with the number of pending trials, the length of time taken to complete matters, access to legal aid and the resources available to the Department of Public Prosecutions have all had and will continue to have an impact on the backlog.
Chief Justice Alan Blow, in his 2017-18 Supreme Court annual report, said the “workload of the judges is totally unsustainable”.
“For the sake of the judges’ health and wellbeing, and for the avoidance of the risk of burn-out and/or untimely early retirement, it is imperative that a seventh full-time judge is appointed without delay.”
He noted the biggest increase in lodgments had been in Launceston with a rise of 14 per cent or 153 lodgments in 2016-17 to 175 in 2017-18.
He had some insightful and practical solutions for correcting the issues that will continue without change.
Criminal prosecutions make up about 80 per cent of the judges’ workload, yet about 20 per cent of the sentences imposed are of two years or longer.
Therefore, Chief Justice Blow suggests a legislative change to allow the Magistrates Court to pick up a greater proportion of criminal work. This is currently being explored.
But funding would be needed to ensure the backlog did not just switch from one court to another.
More funds are needed for legal aid. Yes, the state government contribute more than before, but that’s because federal funding was cut. This must be reinstated and should be an election issue.
It appears there are no incentives for private lawyers to pick up legal aid cases. It would be a smart business decision to have lawyers working on cases that paid the bills.
Our justice system needs solutions, not just temporary fixes. Some major changes will take time to put into effect, but overall they will leave our state’s judiciary in great place into the future.