A REPORT of the highest courts in the states and territories around Australia has praised the Northern Territory for its equity, NSW for effectiveness and South Australia for efficiency.
Yet the report warned of significant factors outside of its calculations that may limit the comparability of its results.
Only three performance indicators for the highest courts in each state and territory were comparable nationally in the report undertaken by the Productivity Commission into the provision of government services for 2005 to 2006.
The NT’s equity through access to its highest courts was measured through average civil court fees per lodgement. The number of full-time equivalent judicial officers gave NSW the best effectiveness rating. And SA’s clearance rate of finalisations per lodgements was what made it the most efficient.
The one comparable indicator for equity through access to the courts was ‘fees paid by applicants’. The average civil court fees collected per lodgement in the Supreme Court (excluding probate) and Federal Court were lowest in the NT and highest in NSW.
The average court fees for the NT’s superior courts hit a low at $305, and peaked at $1,530 in NSW. However, the report cautioned against direct comparison. The result for NSW, for instance, was blown out by the fact that corporations are charged twice the fees paid by individuals.
The average court fees from lowest to highest were NT ($305), Tasmania ($379), Queensland ($560), ACT ($968), SA ($1,204), Victoria ($1,216), WA ($1,232) and NSW ($1,530).
The comparable measure of effectiveness through access to superior courts lay in the number of judicial officers. NSW, carrying the highest average court fees, had the greatest number of full-time equivalent judicial officers at 62.5. The least number was the ACT with 5.6.
The full results were ACT (5.6), Tasmania (7.5), NT (7.9), SA (14.9), Queensland (20.4), SA (14.9), WA (29.1), Victoria (41.0) and NSW (62.5).
When calculated per every 100,000 people, the NT had the highest number of full-time equivalent judicial officers — and more than twice the next best result — whereas Queensland had the poorest representation. The range spread from Queensland (0.5) to Victoria (0.8), NSW (0.9), SA (1.0), WA (1.4), Tasmania (1.5), ACT (1.7) and NT (3.9).
The report said that although a higher proportion of judicial officers suggested the potential for greater access to justice, these results had not considered crucial factors such as case workload, geographical dispersion or population density.
The clearance indicator of finalisation of all matters per lodgements gave the best indication of efficiency in the court administration for the Supreme and Federal Courts.
SA won the honours for most efficient state with a clearance rate (finalisations/lodgements) of 123.4 per cent, or in other words, a decreasing pending caseload achieved by finalising more cases than were lodged.
A similar result was achieved by Tasmania (122.8), NT (105.9) and NSW (103.4). However, an increase in pending caseload was endured by WA (97.7), with Queensland (91.6), ACT (90.1) and Victoria (85.8) becoming progressively less efficient.
Once again, it is important to note that the clearance rate could be tainted by changes in lodgement rates, along with differing case management practices, the report said.