Generic Rockhampton Court.   Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin
Generic Rockhampton Court. Photo: Chris Ison / The Morning Bulletin Chris Ison ROK270716ccourt3

Is Rockhampton in line for a new District judge?

ROCKHAMPTON'S increasingly busy District Court is facing a long backlog of cases but could benefit from the appointment of a new judge in Queensland.

Attorney-General and Minister for Justice Yvette D'Ath has announced the courts will be expanded, with funding for two more judges in Queensland.

An extra Supreme Court justice and an extra District Court judge have been funded and will be appointed in the near future.

There is speculation Rockhampton is in line for a boost in its ranks as it faces a 12-month backlog in the District Court.

The announcement comes after revelations last month about lengthy delays in cases still waiting to be sent from Rockhampton Magistrates Court to the district or supreme courts for sentencing or trials.

Meanwhile, 11.4 per cent of the cases before the Rockhampton District Court have been waiting more than 12 months to be finalised, and 2.9 per cent have been waiting over two years.

RK Law principal lawyer Rowan King yesterday commented in Rockhampton Magistrates Court - where there has been recent issues with delays in court proceedings - that there was a 12-month wait for hearings in the Rockhampton District Court once matters have been through the committal process.

About six months of that is waiting for the Director of Public Prosecutions to have matters ready in the District Court.

The comment came as no surprise, particularly as The Morning Bulletin has noted Rockhampton's permanent District Court, the admirable hard-working and very well-time managed Judge Michael Burnett, hears mentions of matters and at least one sentence each morning trials are running, presides over back-to-back trials and hands down sentences during a jury's lunch break.

Judge Burnett not only finalised 230 defendants' cases in the 2016-17 financial year with a 103.6 per cent clearance rate, he also presided over circuit courts in other parts of the state - of which there are 39.

Rockhampton is one of two District Courts in Queensland with only one permanent presiding judge - the other being Beenleigh, where 532 defendants had their cases finalised in 2016-17.

Meanwhile, 23 per cent of Beenleigh's cases have been waiting more than 12 months to be finalised and 7.4 per cent have been waiting more than two years.

The other district courts with permanent judges are Cairns, Ipswich, Maroochydore, Southport and Townsville with a total of 5193 defendants' cases finalised during 2016-17.

The district court annual report 2016-17 stated there had been been an 11.1 per cent increase in the number of criminal lodgments over the financial year which followed increases of 5.9 per cent in 2015-16 and 6.1 per cent in 2014-15.

Queensland Chief Judge Kerry O'Brien said the District Court monitors the workload in all regional centres and additional judges can be deployed as required to sit and deal with matters throughout the State.

"There are always elements outside a court's control - availability of witnesses, for example, can lead to delays - but we know we can improve the delivery of justice to Queenslanders by providing these extra positions,” Ms D'Ath said.

"Having two extra judges in the system will also enable more circuits to regional centres, and it will mean civil matters can be dealt with more efficiently.”

The Judiciary Appointments Advisory Panel process will begin shortly.

"In my last report, I emphasised the need for greater communication in criminal matters between the Crown and the defence during the period between committal and indictment presentation,” Judge O'Brien wrote in the financial report.

"Justice Martin Moynihan AO made similar comments in his report into the civil and criminal justice systems in Queensland delivered almost 10 years ago.

"The lack of meaningful discussion between the parties continues to cause significant delays in listing matters for trial or sentence and the result can be an inefficient use of court time.”

Last month Acting Magistrate Mark Morrow noticed affidavits provided by police to courts were months old and/or containing out of date information.

It was revealed defence lawyers were being issued briefs of evidence with statements or other evidence missing.

Mr Morrow ordered fresh affidavits with fresh information about when evidence collection would be finalised. He was stood down from the acting position a week later.

Queensland Police Union general secretary Mick Barnes said there were insufficient resources for police to retain their responses to call for assistance and complete their court work.

Only two months before this, the Rockhampton Magistrates Court increased from two courtrooms running full-time to three.

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