I rise to speak on the Court Services Victoria Bill 2013, and from the outset I would like to restate that the opposition will not be opposing this bill.
Currently the administration of the courts is managed by a unit within the Department of Justice.
This bill establishes Court Services Victoria, which will be known as CSV. CSV will be an independent statutory body to provide the administrative services and facilities needed by Victorian courts. The governing body will be the Courts Council, comprised of the heads of each jurisdiction and chaired by the Chief Justice of the Supreme Court. The chief executive officer of Court Services Victoria will be responsible for its day-to-day operations and staffing. The allocation of budgets to each court will continue to be determined through the usual budgetary process and to be accountable to Parliament. Each court will be provided with administrative staff and facilities in accordance with that court’s budget. Court Services Victoria and the Courts Council will be directly accountable to the Parliament to ensure public accountability for public resources.
While this bill allows the heads of each judiciary to contribute to decisions regarding where funds are needed on an administrative level, it does not change the limited budget allocations that are causing a number of problems in Victoria’s criminal justice system, nor does it improve the resources being provided to the courts; it merely allows the courts to determine the ways in which they will use their limited funds for administration. Further, there are far greater concerns for the court system beyond the way in which administrative resources are being allocated, one of those being the higher rates of police arrests and charges that have led to excessive court lists, delays in having matters heard and significant overcrowding in police cells, which has been well reported in the media.
While this bill attempts to improve the independence of the judiciary, the government has actively removed judicial discretion by imposing further mandatory sentencing — another factor contributing to the overcrowded prison system. The prison system is using an exorbitant amount of public funds, and as Victorian prisons continue to operate far beyond their capacity the question has to be asked: will this government continue its simplistic approach to crime and the court system by expanding prisons and allocating more public funds to them?
There are issues in respect of the cuts to funding that we have seen at Victoria Legal Aid which have also put significant strain on the courts, leading to unacceptable delays in having matters listed before the courts. We have also seen a similar rise in accused persons representing themselves. This has major implications where the accused do not have knowledge of criminal procedures, of the rules of evidence or of the relevant information that should be put before the court.
This compromises the outcomes they may otherwise receive if they are represented. Compare this to the resources available to police prosecutors and the Office of Public Prosecutions (OPP). The subsequent delays also mean that accused persons with no representation take up a significant amount of the court’s time, as judges are often required to question the witnesses and the accused to try to extract relevant information, and often prejudicial information is inadvertently provided in the process. The slow progress of matters involving self-represented parties financially burdens the court and associated personnel, including judges, bench clerks, OPP staff, witnesses, jurors, police et cetera, and causes a backlog of other matters that are not being heard.
In conclusion, this is an independent body that allows the judiciary to allocate resources where they are most appropriately required, and it is supported by the Labor opposition. However, the bill does not improve the administrative resources afforded to the judiciary, nor does the bill address those issues with the court system that should be a priority of this government. Issues of unacceptable delays, legal aid cuts and overcrowding in police cells and prisons are impacting on the operation of courts, public funds and matters of justice. It is these issues, more than the allocation of administrative resources, that should have the attention of government. It is these issues that the Labor opposition and the people of Victoria want this government to resolve.