Legislative Assembly for the ACT: 2022 Week 03 Hansard (Wednesday, 6 April 2022) . . Page.. 815 ..
MR RATTENBURY (Kurrajong-Attorney-General, Minister for Consumer Affairs, Minister for Gaming and Minister for Water, Energy and Emissions Reduction) (11.49): I rise today to provide an update to members of the Assembly on the government’s support for the ACT courts. Almost two years into this government’s term, and two years into a global pandemic, there have been a number of initiatives and improvements progressed within my portfolio as Attorney-General to improve the ACT courts to ensure that they are appropriately and readily equipped to respond to the community’s needs.
In doing so, this government has also swiftly progressed a range of reforms to support the operation and performance of the courts. I am going to speak to some of those matters today to highlight and demonstrate the ability of the executive and the judiciary to work productively together whilst respecting the separation of powers, to ensure that the ACT’s justice system is resilient, agile and well placed to meet the evolving needs of the Canberra community.
The last few years have been challenging, with the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic rippling across our entire community, and with these impacts also felt throughout our justice system. COVID-19 prompted immediate changes to court processes across the globe, and the ACT courts were no exception. COVID-19 led to a range of measures being quickly implemented by the ACT courts to support social distancing and reduce the spread of the virus. Where feasible, essential court and tribunal operations continued, using a range of technologies such as video and telephone conferencing. I would like to acknowledge the outstanding work of the courts in successfully navigating this challenging time and continuing to deliver justice services to the Canberra community.
The restrictions imposed by the pandemic led to a slowing of court operations and a slowing of finalisation rates, which inevitably resulted in a backlog in cases accumulating in the Magistrates Court, the court of highest volume. To enable the court to respond to this growing backlog, this government appointed special magistrates in 2020 to assure judicial capacity and enhance listing flexibility, and committed additional resources through the 2021-22 budget to assist in addressing the backlog of cases. The government also increased the number of acting judges, providing the Supreme Court with better flexibility and more options during the period of the Sydney lockdown. This demonstrates the government’s commitment and acknowledgement of the resourcing needs of the court.
Improving court efficiency and meeting the resourcing needs of the ACT courts is a key priority for the ACT government. In September 2021, as part of the 2021-22 ACT budget, the government announced $3.8 million of additional funding for the ACT courts for the appointment of a dedicated coroner and support staff, and for additional special magistrate resources to help reduce the backlog of cases arising from the ongoing pandemic restrictions. This additional funding will provide the ACT Magistrates Court with the judicial resources needed to manage its workload.