Damning figures which show growing inefficiency in the Victorian courts fail to take into account the fact litigation has increased while the number of judges has not, said the head of the Law Institute of Victoria (LIV).
Michael Holcroft, the president of the LIV, said data released yesterday (31 January) in a report by the Productivity Commission, which ranked Victoria last in a national survey of civil cases cleared, reflected an increase in the number of cases being litigated and was not necessarily indicative of increased inefficiency.
“Our courts cannot control the number of proceedings issued. There is an ebb and flow which is out of the control of the courts. The number of proceedings has increased substantially in recent years,” said Holcroft.
“For example, since 2006/07, County Court commencements have gone from 4,909 to 6,675. Finalisations have gone from 4,830 to 5,775. At the same time, there has been no real increase in judges. Anecdotally, Work Cover and [the Transport Accident Commission] are requiring determination of more serious injury applications. These require judges to write very detailed judgments, which take time.”
Holcroft said the Supreme Court actively promoted Victoria as a preferred litigation venue and the increase in matters lodged with the court could be a direct result of that promotion.
“Supreme Court civil initiations increased by 1.5 per cent in the past year,” said Holcroft. “An increase in defended and complex trials has slowed the finalisation rate [and] Victoria has had a large number of class action litigation, including the bushfire and Thalidomide litigation.”
While Holcroft did not directly question the accuracy of the Productivity Commission’s data, he noted that the Commission had, in previous years, been criticised as being inadequate and failing to take into account the number of judges, the complexity and length of cases, and government funding for the justice system.