Public access to justice could be improved through broadcasting court cases on the internet, Western Australian Chief Justice Wayne Martin has suggested.
Speaking at the Australian Lawyers Alliance WA State Conference last weekend, Martin said "netcasting" had advantages and disadvantages.
"The advantage of netcasting, as opposed to using third party broadcasters, is that the court can control the netcast and, through means of a small delay and a 'kill' button, prevent any inappropriate material going out," he said.
"However, the disadvantage of netcasting - if it is to go live or nearly live - is that experience in other jurisdictions has shown that court proceedings are fundamentally boring ... and that, after initial enthusiasm has waned, netcasting audiences dwindle almost to the insignificant in a relatively short time."
An alternative that may be put into practice as early as the end of the year is video packages - a result of a partnership set up between the University of Western Australia and the WA Supreme Court.
Law students will produce edited packages from criminal and civil trials which will be available on the university and court's websites, Martin said.
"This is an important means through which practical information can be provided to people who are likely to become engaged in the court process.
"We will also continue our current practices under which sentencing remarks are posted on the internet, and audio feeds of those remarks made available to the media on request, and which permit broadcasting of parts of proceedings in which there is great public interest," he said.
Martin expressed concerns that Australians might have a "Rolls Royce of justice systems".
"It seems to me that, in some respects, our justice system is analogous to this Rolls Royce, in that many Australians simply lack the financial means, knowledge and endurance to participate fully in its processes," he said.
"While [many Australians] can take some comfort that they live in a country which has such a justice system, to [many] it is inaccessible and, to that extent, of limited relevance."
Martin also suggested a number of changes to courtroom procedures. He said the current court process needed to be less adversarial and more collegiate, with a greater role for judicial activism in identifying issues.
In commercial cases, the use of oral evidence in particular, "adds very little to the fact finding process" and could extend a trial, Martin said.
Martin also said that, while the suggestion was controversial, there could be scope to place an obligation of disclosure on defence lawyers to identify real issues involved in a case.
Another concern he expressed was control over how funds were allocated in the court system. He said control should be handed over to the judiciary to decide where money was spent, rather than decisions being made by officials who reported to the Attorney-General. He said the "segregation of responsibility from authority" resulted in limited public resources being "fundamentally inefficient and wasteful".
- Sarah Sharples