In 2017 the NSW criminal courts finalised a total of 344,176 charges against 141,024 defendants. That is 3,023 more defendants than were dealt with by the criminal courts in 2016 (up 2.2%) and approximately 21,000 more defendants than were dealt with by the NSW Criminal Courts five years ago (i.e. in 2013).
Since 2013, the number of males appearing in court on criminal charges has increased by 15 per cent. The growth in the number of females appearing in court on criminal charges (25 per cent) has been even greater. Around 90 per cent of defendants in 2017 were found guilty of at least one charge.
Most of the growth in convictions since 2013 has come from the categories of Traffic and Vehicle Regulatory Offences (an additional 8,793 persons convicted), Illicit Drug Offences (an additional 3,885 persons convicted), Offences Against Justice Procedures (e.g. breaches of court orders) (an additional 3,465 persons convicted) and Acts Intended to Cause Injury (an additional 2,314 persons convicted).
The growth in persons arrested and brought before the courts has greatly increased court delay and the size of the NSW prison population. In 2013 the median time between arrest and case finalisation for defended cases in the NSW Local Court was 169 days. By 2017 this had risen to 199 days, an increase of around 18 per cent.
In the NSW District Court, the median time between committal for trial and outcome (for cases proceeding to trial) rose from 289 days in 2013 to 376 days in 2017, an increase of 30 per cent. The median time between arrest and case finalisation for matters proceeding to trial in the NSW District Criminal Court is now 716 days.
Between 2013 and 2017, the annual number of convicted offenders receiving a prison sentence rose from 9,570 to 13,042, an increase of 36 per cent. A little more than half (53%) of this growth is a result of increased numbers of court appearances, with the remainder being due to an increase in the proportion of convicted offenders being given a prison sentence.
The NSW Children’s Court is the only jurisdiction experiencing a substantial fall in workload. The total number of young people appearing in the NSW Children’s Court fell by 16 per cent between 2013 and 2017, from 7,401 to 6,238. The number of juveniles receiving a custodial penalty has also fallen sharply, from 695 in 2013 to 511 in 2017, a decline of 27 per cent.
Police funding must be balanced by court resources
The Law Society of NSW welcomes the NSW Government’s announcement of devotion of significant new funding to bolster policing across the state.
But President Doug Humphreys has warned it could add to existing backlogs and delays in the justice process if it is not matched by additional resourcing for the courts.
“Resourcing police must be backed up by adequate resourcing for the rest of the justice system,” Mr Humphreys said.
“Many victims of crime are already languishing for long periods waiting for justice because the courts do not have sufficient resources to manage the existing cases.
“Additional resources must be given to the court, the Director of Public Prosecutions and to Legal Aid NSW to cope with the down-stream effects of more police.”
Mr Humphreys said a 2.2 per cent growth in the number of defendants dealt with by the criminal courts in NSW in the past year exacerbated overcrowding in the state’s jails and added to excessive delays in the number of cases before the courts.
“NSW is spending more on prisons than ever before,” Mr Humphreys said.
“Surely as a society we would prefer to spend our money on more teachers, nurses and fire-fighters than keeping people locked up who could be more promptly dealt with if the courts were able to.”