Court delays mean more jail time for innocent

Sydney Morning Herald
Geesche Jacobsen and Nick Ralston
October 26, 2010
 
More than 1400 adults and children who were never convicted of a crime were imprisoned last year, some for months, and the time people spend behind bars before being cleared by the courts is getting longer.
 
While court delays overall have fallen in most categories, this is not the case for those waiting in jail for their day in court, says a report by the Bureau of Crime Statistics and Research.

”We should be concerned about holding people in custody unnecessarily,” said Julie Stubbs, a law professor at the University of NSW and a spokeswoman for the Crime and Justice Reform Committee. ”We have the presumption of innocence; they should await trial in the community, wherever that is safe to occur.”
The report showed that 205 juveniles who were refused bail last year – more than 11 per cent – were cleared of charges.

Adults awaiting trial in the Supreme Court waited in custody for a median 619 days from the date of the alleged offence until they were cleared.

More than 1200 people in jail who were later acquitted of all charges were dealt with in the Local Court, where the median delay increased from 53 days in 2008 to 79 days last year from the first court appearance until charges were dismissed at a hearing. Others whose charges were dismissed without a hearing spent a median of more than 16 weeks in custody.

The report showed that the state government’s proposed bail reforms did not go far enough, said Professor Stubbs.

The report also showed that last year the proportion of guilty pleas in the Supreme Court rose from 40 per cent to 50.5 per cent.

The number of appeals rose slightly last year compared with 2008. More than 60 per cent of District Court appeals against the severity of a sentence succeeded, but the Crown increased its success rate, with 74 per cent of appeals against the inadequacy of sentences granted, compared with 26 per cent in 2008.

The report revealed a 20 per cent increase in the number of non-domestic apprehended violence orders granted by the courts. There were 7885 issued last year, compared with 6587 in 2008. This compares with a 2 per cent increase in domestic AVOs issued over the same period.

The area with the highest proportion of non-domestic AVOs based on population size was in the state’s far west, followed by the north-west.

Emmanuel Apokis, a solicitor at Prime Lawyers, said many personal AVO matters related to disputes between neighbours.

A Mosman mother of two, Kimberley Morrison, had a personal AVO taken out against her in August last year amid allegations she had been stalking an employee of Macquarie Bank.

In turn Ms Morrison, who is fighting the allegations, claimed she was being followed by private investigators hired by the banker and applied to have an AVO taken out against him.

”It’s affected my life greatly,” she said of her AVO. ”I have to keep … away from Martin Place, Sydney, and it’s been hell trying to make up excuses as to why I can’t go into the city. I’m not even allowed in certain sections of Mosman and I live in Mosman.”

She said she would be willing to drop her AVO if the banker was willing to do the same.

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