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Department of the Attorney General
Annual Report 2015/16
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Agency Performance

Courts

Supreme Court

The Supreme Court is the State’s highest court and is divided into two divisions - the General Division and the Court of Appeal.

The General Division hears the most serious criminal charges such as murder, armed robbery, arson and breaches of Commonwealth drug enforcement laws and civil cases involving complex issues or significant matters.

The Division also deals with probate (including disputes over Wills), admiralty (disputes involving ships), disputed elections and applications under the Corporations Act 2001.

The Court of Appeal hears appeals from single judge decisions of the Supreme Court, lower courts and various tribunals

Outcomes 2015/16

During the year in review, the Supreme Court continued to experience high demand for criminal trial time.

The median time to criminal trial increased from 33 weeks in 2014/15 to 36 weeks during 2015/16, which is above the budgeted target of 28 weeks, due to the continuing demands within the criminal jurisdiction.

The Supreme Court continued to deliver high quality services to the community. The Court:

  • finalised 2,964 civil cases and 307 criminal cases
  • issued 6,831 grants of probate which enables deceased estates to be finalised
  • conducted 80 criminal trials and 51 civil trials
  • heard 4,401 judicial appointments for case management and interlocutory orders in civil matters. An interlocutory order is an order given in an intermediate stage between the commencement and termination of a cause of action, used to provide a temporary or provisional decision on an issue
  • conducted 531 mediations in civil cases
  • finalised 291 criminal appeals and 178 civil appeals
  • managed 329 accused cases in the Stirling Gardens Magistrates Court to committal.

The Supreme Court (civil) began operations at the new David Malcolm Justice Centre on 11 July 2016.

The building includes a new registry serving both General Division and probate clients.

The new facilities will cater for continued growth of the Supreme Court’s civil work well into the future and will offer improvements in service quality for its users.

The Court of Appeal will continue to be based in the Stirling Gardens courthouse.

Family Court of Western Australia

The Family Court of Western Australia hears matters relating to divorce, parenting orders, property of a marriage or de facto relationship, maintenance, adoptions and surrogacy. It has State and Federal jurisdiction in matters of family law.

Outcomes 2015/16

During the financial year the Court continued to experience growth in initiating applications for final order.

3,101 such applications were lodged with the Court, an increase of 8.5 per cent. A corresponding 2,667 initiating applications for final order were finalised, an increase of five per cent.

Time to trial reduced by two weeks to 81 weeks. This indicator, in particular, benefited from the dedication of two magistrates to trial work for the full year and was further aided by the State Government’s approval to appoint a temporary magistrate from March to December 2015, allowing the allocation of a third magistrate to trials for that duration.

District Court

The District Court hears serious criminal offences, excluding those with a maximum term of life imprisonment. The court also exercises a significant civil jurisdiction. It hears and determines commercial and debt recovery matters involving claims up to $750,000, while exercising unlimited jurisdiction in claims for damages for personal injuries and exclusive jurisdiction for damages claims for injury sustained in motor vehicle accidents. The court also has a civil appeal jurisdiction.

Outcomes 2015/16

The criminal median time to trial in the District Court was at the budget target of 32 weeks.

Eighty-nine per cent of all cases were finalised within the budget target timeframe of 52 weeks. During 2015/16 the Court had:

  • 2,463 criminal cases lodged
  • 2,075 criminal cases finalised
  • 4,987 civil cases lodged, 112 of which were appeals from lower courts
  • 5,055 civil cases finalised, 107 of which were appeals from lower courts
  • 511 criminal cases finalised by trial and 50 civil cases.

Magistrates Court

The Magistrates Court of Western Australia hears criminal and civil matters involving people aged 18 years and above.

The Magistrates Court operates in more than 75 locations across the State. Criminal offences (known as simple offences) are heard in the Magistrates Court, in addition to ‘either way’ offences which can be heard in either a lower or superior court, depending on a determination made by the court. The Magistrates Court also deals with civil matters for claims up to $75,000, as well as restraining orders and extraordinary driver’s licence applications.

Outcomes 2015/16

During 2015/16, the Magistrates Court had more than 100,000 criminal case lodgments, a three per cent (2,690 cases) increase from 2014/15. This increase was driven primarily by increases in lodgments of illicit drug and dangerous and negligent acts endangering persons offences.

During the same period, criminal charge lodgments increased five per cent, from an average of 1.9 charges per case to 2.0 charges per case.

A charge per case figure indicates the number of offences alleged against a defendant within a single case. A case represents any number of charges lodged at one registry on a single day against one defendant.

The offence which recorded the most significant change was in sexual assault and related offences (4.2 charges per case in 2014/15 to 5.0 charges per case in 2015/16). Charges relating to illicit drug offences, public order offences and offences against justice procedures, government security and government operations reported a 0.2 increase in charge per case.

The Magistrates Court experienced a three per cent increase in civil lodgments since 2014/15. The regions which recorded the largest increase was in the Kimberley and Pilbara (15 per cent, 364 cases) and Joondalup (10 per cent, 441 cases). This increase was mainly attributed to the growth in residential tenancies (16 per cent, 2,262 cases) and violence restraining order applications (5 per cent, 640 cases).

Mental Health Court (Start Court and Links)

The Start Court commenced on 18 March 2013 and is the first mental health court diversion program in Western Australia. The 2016/17 State Budget process saw the extension of the adult and children’s programs for an additional three years at a total cost of $13.1 million.

The Mental Health Court Diversion Program provides a tailored response to offending that is linked to mental illness. Program participants are supervised by a court while they receive holistic treatment and support that addresses the underlying causes of their offending behaviour. This approach aims to improve participants’ health and wellbeing, break the cycle of offending and provide an alternative to prison.

The program is a joint initiative between the Mental Health Commission and the Department. The project involves dedicated and trained staff from multiple agencies including Legal Aid Western Australia, the Western Australia Police, the Department of Corrective Services and the Department of Health. Outcare, a non-government organisation, also provides services to the program.

The adult component of the program, Start Court, operates as a dedicated court within the Perth Magistrates Court. The children’s component, Links, offers clinical and psychosocial support to young people who appear before the Perth Children’s Court.

Sunday Court

Sunday Court at the Perth Police Centre began on 6 July 2014. The Sunday Court deals with accused people held in custody at the complex.

This has resulted in the centre being largely cleared of persons in custody on Sunday.

The Sunday Court also deals with accused people from regional police lockups and hospitals via video or audio link, again allowing persons in custody access to a magistrate at the earliest opportunity.

Outcomes 2015/16

From 1 July 2015 until 30 June 2016, 1,874 accused persons appeared before the Sunday Court.

The Monday Court list for offenders in custody for the six months to June 2016 at the Central Law Courts has, on average, been reduced by 47.3 per cent as a result of the matters being dealt with in the Sunday Court.

This has given the court extra time to deal with the other matters (other than persons in custody) in the list.

During the past year, 183 Sunday Court matters have been dealt with via video-link to Western Australian police stations in areas such as Newman, South Hedland, Warakurna and Warburton.

Perth Drug Court and Diversion Programs

The Perth Drug Court diverts serious offenders who have complex substance use problems into highly intensive and supervised treatment responses.

Participants who successfully complete a Drug Court Program will have addressed their offending behaviour and may avoid a term of imprisonment in order to continue their rehabilitation in the community.

A series of diversion programs are also delivered within the Magistrates Court, which specifically assist people with drug-related problems.

These programs are jointly delivered by the Mental Health Commission and the Department.

Participants in these programs are able to access treatment and counselling aimed at assisting them to break their cycle of drug-related problems and offending.

Since 2013, offenders in the broader metropolitan area who experience alcohol-related problems are now also able to access these programs.

In response to the increasingly complex needs of offenders, the diversion programs are also available within other case management regimes including the Family Violence List and the Start Court.

Outcomes 2015/16

Including the Drug Court, a total of 1,330 offenders throughout the State gained access to a diversion program.

Family Violence List

On 24 June 2015, the Attorney General the Hon Michael Mischin announced that Western Australian courts would provide more support to family violence victims under a new model of dealing with restraining orders and serious assaults which occur in a family setting.

The Department worked with key State Government and non-Government agencies to establish a model which greater leverages the extensive knowledge and resources of domestic violence focused agencies in an effort to provide improved levels of support to the victims of domestic violence offending. The new model, known as the Family Violence List, has been operating by way of a ‘pilot’ at the Fremantle Magistrates Court since December 2015. The pilot will be subject to review, the findings of which will inform the next steps.

The Family Violence List model includes a strong focus on the consideration of victim safety, including victim support pathways and seeking victim input at the earliest opportunity. Key aspects of the new model include:

  • Dedicated court lists for family violence-related criminal charges. The Family Violence List model seeks to provide a greater level of collaboration between courts and other Government and non-Government domestic violence focused agencies. This promotes victim support by allowing service delivery agencies to work together around the specified court lists and for risk-relevant information to be exchanged between service delivery agencies which can be put before the courts.

  • The integrated model includes a partnership between the Family Violence Service, the Department of Corrective Services and the Family and Domestic Violence Response Teams including WA Police, the Department for Child Protection and Family Support and specialised women’s services working together to prioritise victim safety and perpetrator accountability in the courts.

  • The availability of the Family Violence Service and Community Corrections Officers at court ensures that family and domestic violence cases are subjected to a specialist integrated response from a dedicated magistrate supported by professionals with specialist training in family and domestic violence.

Children's Court

The Children’s Court of Western Australia deals with offences alleged to have been committed by young people aged 10 to 17 years. The Court hears protection and care applications for children under the age of 18.

The Mental Health Court Diversion Program (known as Links in the Children’s Court), gives the President and magistrates of the Children’s Court, access to a team of mental health specialists, including a clinical psychologist, a consultant psychiatrist, mental health nurses and support workers.

The Links team is on-hand to provide assessments and reports to the court, make referrals to appropriate services and offer some clinical intervention. Links aims to divert young offenders from the criminal justice stream to ensure they receive necessary treatment as well as alternative sentencing options for those whose offences are the result of mental illness.

The Perth Children’s Court also delivers a Children’s Drug Court which aims to divert young people experiencing drug-related problems into intensive case management and  treatment.

Outcomes 2015/16

  • Finalisation of criminal cases declined slightly, with 6,406 finalisations in 2014/15 to 6,157 in 2015/16.
  • Civil lodgments declined by 13 per cent from 2,084 in 2014/15 to 1,812 in 2015/16.
  • The Links Clinical Assessment Team provided advice, assessment or assistance in 444 cases during 2015/16, a 43 per cent increase from the previous year.

Coroners Court

The coronial system investigates more than 2,000 cases each year where a death arises from apparent unnatural causes or when the cause of death is unknown.

The role of the Coroner is to ensure deaths reported to the Coroner are investigated and, where appropriate, an inquest is held. The hearing is usually open to the public. During an inquest, witnesses are called to give evidence to enable the Coroner to determine a cause of death.

A more comprehensive annual report on the deaths which have been investigated is provided each year to the Attorney General for State Parliament by the State Coroner under section 27 of the Coroners Act 1996 (WA).

Outcomes 2015/16

The 113 recommendations made by the Law Reform Commission following its review of coronial practices in Western Australia were responded to by the Department and endorsed by the Minister. Many of the recommendations will require amendments to the Coroners Act 1996 to improve service delivery to parties involved in coronial cases and the broader community. The amendments will also give the court greater powers to better manage cases and require public entities to respond to coronial recommendations.

It is anticipated that the amendments, once they are passed, will streamline operations for the Coroner’s Court, the WA Police and the State Mortuary. Work has commenced to amend the Act.

The Coroner’s Office continued to focus on a backlog of cases. At 30 June 2016 there had been a reduction in backlog cases from a record high of 938 in September 2011, to 466 cases. About 69 per cent of the backlog cases were waiting on external agencies to supply information before a coroner can make a determination on the matters.

In 2015/16 the court dealt with 2,214 reportable deaths, in addition to 1,198 death certificates, and finalised a total of 2,049 matters.

The Coroner’s Court sat for 119 days in 2015/16 and finalised 58 inquest cases.


Last updated: 27-Sep-2016

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