Judge Clare blasts court delays
A DISTRICT Court judge has slammed lengthy delays in the handling of serious criminal cases in Warwick, calling the situation “an outrage to the community”.
Judge Leanne Clare, who opened the current two-week sitting of the District Court here on Tuesday, yesterday vented her anger at the slowness of justice in the Rose City after discharging a jury due to hear a child sex abuse case.
The case had to be adjourned after a key witness was hospitalised, but Her Honour went on to list more than 12 other cases on hold due to lack of progress with evidence and witnesses.
The District Court – the middle level in the Queensland justice system between magistrates courts and the Supreme Court – visits Warwick and Stanthorpe no more than four times a year and is next due in August.
In one instance, a case due to be heard in this sitting cannot proceed due to a complainant undergoing wisdom teeth removal on the Gold Coast and another is on hold because a witness is about to give birth.
Defendants including alleged thieves, child rapists, drug dealers and violent offenders are set down to be dealt with while the District Court is in town, with many likely to be adjourned to August at the earliest.
A fed up Judge Clare – herself a former Director of Public Prosecutions – addressed both prosecution and defence lawyers in a no-nonsense manner, describing the inability to progress cases as “appalling”.
“This court only comes here very rarely, yet we start a sitting and there is nothing to do,” Her Honour fumed.
“The slowness in the disposition of justice is an outrage to the community.”
Judge Clare questioned why the medical commitments of key players had not been factored into the court’s visit to Warwick and why no thought had been given to allowing witnesses to give evidence via telephone hook-up.
Her Honour went on to insist that outstanding matters be progressed immediately, ordering that several defendants who were not required to appear for mention be directed to do so and that arraignments be brought forward, meaning defendants will need to enter a plea of guilty or not guilty, determining the need for a trial.
Yesterday’s scheduled child sex abuse trial, involving a defendant from Inglewood, had already been put over from Tuesday due to a lack of jurors.
Chances of it starting evaporated shortly before the court sat at 10am yesterday, when the prosecutor advised Judge Clare the doctor who examined the child complainant had been hospitalised.
But it emerged this took place on Sunday, with no apparent explanation for the delay in receiving advice of the doctor’s inability to give evidence.
The court also heard the trial was adjourned last August due to the witnesses’ health, yet no alternative arrangement was made, such as recording of her findings so another doctor could appear on her behalf.
Judge Clare apologised to the jury as they were discharged and the matter was adjourned to August.
Judge Clare’s anger comes as Attorney-General Cameron Dick’s office confirmed yesterday that major reforms to the District Court and magistrates courts due to have gone to parliament by now will be delayed for at least another three months.
Mr Dick committed in November to bringing the Civil and Criminal Jurisdiction Reform and Modernisation Amendment Bill 2009 to parliament in “early” 2010.
But a spokeswoman said the draft reforms – which would see town magistrates being given more scope to deal with serious criminal cases, a major benefit to small towns like Warwick – would not hit the chamber until “mid-year” at the earliest.
The Daily News also asked for details of the total number of District Court matters pending for both Warwick and Stanthorpe, but was told this would not be available until next week.
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