The Law Society of South Australia president David Caruso recently described the state court system as “chronically under-funded” and blasted the government’s failure to address the issue in the budget.
Last week the South Australian Attorney-General, the Honourable John Rau MP, appeared before Budget Estimates to answer questions about the 2016-17 state budget as it applies to his portfolio.
He addressed multiple issues, including the Courts Administration Authority (CAA), the appointment of new judges, justice reinvestment and the Legal Services Commission (LSC).
The budget included an allocation of $1 million to “develop a strategic approach to future accommodation needs of court facilities in the CBD”.
Mr Rau MP described this strategy as a “property and asset study”, which will involve the CAA identifying accommodation needs in the CBD's court buildings. The CAA has established a committee to investigate accommodation options for the courts, with the study expected to commence shortly.
“Given that [court accommodation upgrades are] an inescapable necessity, the best way I can see it going forward is for me to ensure this study covers every possible angle about this and makes an absolutely irresistible case about not only the fact that it must happen, but certainly how it can and should happen,” Mr Rau MP said.
The budget also allocated $4,198,000 in 2016-17 for minor capital works and equipment, with Mr Rau MP advising he will provide a list of works to be conducted on court buildings shortly.
The budget included no immediate plans to appoint additional judges in the District Court.
Despite the Chief Justice suggesting consideration be given to appointing an additional judge to help deal with the significant increase in backlogs affecting the courts, Mr Rau MP indicated that consideration of increasing the number of judicial officers should be deferred until an assessment of reforms relating to major indictable matters is undertaken to determine if they are reducing backlogs.
Mr Caruso said another major issue is the reduction in funding for the LSC, which was cut by $1.3 million in the 2016-17 state budget.
This follows a cut of $975,000 in the previous financial year, with further cuts expected in 2017-18 and 2018-19.
“I’m confident, that [the LSC] will be able to, through efficiencies and changes in the way they do things, deliver the saving and continue to offer good services,” Mr Rau MP said.
Mr Caruso said: “This is a continuing culture of expecting the same (or even more) with less”.