Plan for second Wollongong court thwarted

By Courtney Trenwith
Updated November 5 2012 - 10:45am, first published December 19 2009 - 10:32pm

The number of criminal trials in Wollongong has reached unworkable levels but understaffing in the city's Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions has thwarted plans for a second court, a judge claims.The burgeoning number of criminal trials has caused such a backlog, Wollongong District Court is already scheduling trials for May and June next year, leaving many defendants languishing in jail or on remand for months.NSW District Court Chief Judge, Justice Reg Blanch, has responded by offering to reopen a second court in the city during various months of next year.

  • Govt must act to relieve our court logjamWollongong District Court Judge Paul Conlon said that would adequately address the issue, but he had been forced to turn down the offer because there were not enough crown prosecutors to run the trials.Wollongong had been operating with just two crown prosecutors for much of the year because one was on extended sick leave and had not been replaced.With additional responsibilities for criminal trials in Bega, Goulburn and Nowra, the crown prosecutors were struggling to cope, Judge Conlon said.He is so concerned about the backlog he called the court's defence lawyers to his courtroom to urge them to ensure trials went ahead when scheduled.Delays could see trials not being rescheduled until the second half of next year, he warned."I need the co-operation of practitioners in this," Judge Conlon told the Mercury. "It's important that our system has the ability to not cause delay for an accused person to get his trial. "The NSW District Court has been the best in the country in doing that but the court could not have achieved its present levels of efficiency without the Director of Public Prosecutions offices' continuous dedication in presenting the cases to the court."The fact that the Wollongong office has been down one crown prosecutor for the majority of 2009 has placed enormous pressure on the whole office."This is a most unfortunate situation which cannot be allowed to continue. It can be overcome by simply appointing another crown prosecutor."A spokeswoman for the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions refused to confirm Wollongong staffing levels and would not comment on whether accusations of understaffing would be addressed."Court requirements in Wollongong and elsewhere will be addressed by the office as its resources allow," the spokeswoman said. "The situation statewide (including staffing levels and employment action) is constantly monitored and addressed by relevant regional offices and in head office."Already about 60 trials will be carried over into the new year - more than double the 27 matters listed at the beginning of this year.If this year's figure of 88 new trials is repeated in 2010, and indications are there will be more, that could create delays of more than six months.