I rise to speak on the annual report of the Supreme Court of Victoria for 2005-06. The Supreme Court of Victoria is the supreme court in the state and is governed by the Supreme Court Act 1986. It is equal in status to the legislature and the executive government, and it is imperative in a socially cohesive community that it have a high level of performance. It can claim credit for its high performance during the reporting period in question.
With its title and function as this state’s superior court, the Supreme Court constantly deals with very complex and time-consuming issues. These include murder and attempted murder trials and civil cases generally exceeding damages of $200 000, and they regularly involve appointing and instructing a jury on points of law in criminal matters.
During the reporting period covered, 2005-06, a number of initiatives were undertaken in the court. The first that I will mention is the mediation by masters. This allows the masters of the courts, after completion of a specialised mediation training course, to mediate certain cases that come before the court. While it is too early to assess this situation, there is already clear evidence that a number of positives have been achieved — namely, the freeing up of judge time, parties being saved from the stress, inconvenience and cost of trials, and a decreased workload on the court itself.
Another initiative set up in the reporting period was the appointment of the self-represented litigants coordinator, who is in place to provide procedural guidance and assistance to litigants in person who wish to commence proceedings on their own behalf or appear before the court. This is another scheme that makes the law accessible to all members of the community and strives to give the best opportunity for a fair trial — a right all Victorians are entitled to.
I am also pleased that through this reporting period the regional circuits continued, ensuring that all Victorians had access to the courts. The courts sat in regional areas such as Ballarat, Bendigo, Hamilton, Horsham, Geelong, Mildura, Sale, Shepparton, Wangaratta, Warrnambool and Wodonga.
During the reporting period the court, together with the Department of Justice, was in discussion on the Melbourne legal precinct master plan for the Supreme Court redevelopment. The state government has committed $37.7 million for the early works package pending stage 1 of the Supreme Court redevelopment. The Supreme Court of Victoria and the state government are committed to achieving a contemporary and well-designed court facility in the context of preserving the historically significant court building to serve the Victorian community.
The reporting period also included the first major criminal e-trial for the Supreme Court. The e-trial involved the well-known Pong Su case and took advantage of the state-of-the-art technologies available. The technologies used included touch-sensitive plasma screens, multiple liquid crystal display monitors and projectors and the latest courtbook management system available. This was the first e-trial in Australia to introduce and incorporate all these court technologies together. The judge presiding over the case, the Honourable Justice Kellam, reported that the e-trial was a success. He said:
- Constantly having documents up on screen for all to see …
- meant everyone gained a better understanding. So much was visual that fewer questions were asked by barristers and less explaining was needed.
Justice Kellam also reported that the electronic management of evidence reduced the need to keep exhibits in court and saved weeks in trial time.
In accordance with the court’s focus on the importance of a competent jury, a short juror-orientation film was developed to be used as part of the juror induction program. A module which focuses on the importance of jury service and its duty within the context of citizenship has also been developed for year 9, 10, 11 and 12 students.
I congratulate the Supreme Court of Victoria and its 38 judges, particularly the Chief Justice, the Honourable Marilyn Warren, AC, the eight masters and other staff of the court on a very successful period.