The criminal justice system is at breaking point

The criminal justice system is at breaking point

Wednesday, 14 June 2017

L-R: Executive Director Criminal Law Services Helen Fatouros, Managing Director Bevan Warner, Chief Magistrate Melbourne Magistrates' Court Peter Lauritsen, Chief Commissioner Victoria Police Graham Ashton.
L-R: Executive Director Criminal Law Services Helen Fatouros, Managing Director Bevan Warner, Chief Magistrate Melbourne Magistrates' Court Peter Lauritsen, Chief Commissioner Victoria Police Graham Ashton.

We have released an independent review of our criminal law services in the Magistrates’ Court that paints a stark picture of a system approaching crisis. The landmark report highlights the need for a better Magistrates’ Court system for all Victorians.

Executive Director Criminal Law, Helen Fatouros says: ‘This report confirms what we’ve known for some time: the pressures on our services within the busiest part of the criminal justice system, the Magistrates’ Court, are now approaching a crisis point.’

‘Demand is increasing, pressure on staff and services is building and without urgent repair, the Court, police prosecutors and Victoria Legal Aid will no longer be able to deliver effective justice outcomes to help keep the community safe.’

‘There is a pressing need to reform how criminal justice is delivered in the Magistrates’ Court. This is where most Victorians experience the criminal justice system, it is very much the people’s court. Mounting pressure over many years from changes to the law, frontline policing and outdated court processes has created a chaotic and inconsistent system.’

‘The legal aid lawyers who provide advice and representation to Victorians across all Magistrates’ Courts in the state are essential to the justice system being able to serve the community. But right now, they are stretched to breaking point as are police prosecutors and court staff.’

Ms Fatouros also cautions: ‘Funding on its own is not enough, the system also needs to be repaired and then redesigned. The courts, police prosecutors and Victoria Legal Aid, all need to improve and work better together as public agencies with the support of government.

Addressing the causes of crime not just its consequences is essential. We need a court that has the time and space to care for victims and which can properly assess and then sentence individual offenders balancing punishment and a pathway to the offender getting their life back on track. The seriousness of the sentencing process is undermined when the pressure to get through huge court lists renders it an impersonal and hasty process.’

With thousands of extra police coming on line, we need to confront the reality that the current system will not be able to cope. We need to plan now so we can create a modern justice system that professionally supports the people using it, as well as the people working in it.

‘Without whole of system reform, the revolving door to justice will continue to harm the community through re-offending and ever increasing costs to the taxpayer. Every Victorian deserves better justice,’ says Ms Fatouros.

Victoria Legal Aid commissioned this report by the Law and Justice Foundation of New South Wales, specialists in access to justice research and evaluation.

More Information

For more information and to download the report, read Summary Crime Evaluation.

Media enquiries

If you have a media enquiry please contact Manager Program Communications Jasmine Fiegehen via jasmine.fiegehen@vla.vic.gov.au or 0416 922 229.