Court delays due to underfunding: Oppn

The risk of inexperienced lawyers handling complex issues remains in the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions because of chronic underfunding, Shadow Attorney General Mark McArdle said last night.
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Queensland’s Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions remains "seriously compromised" by underfunding after it was given $3.5 million over four years for extra staff in yesterday’s Budget, Mr McArdle said.

It had requested $17.8 million extra over three years to boost its $32 million budget to $47.8 million in a draft report to the Government, leaked by Mr McArdle last month.

"The report makes it quite clear that inexperienced lawyers will be handling complicated legal matters and these lawyers are the ones that represent the interest of the public," Mr McArdle said.

He said the risk to the public was a possible miscarriage of justice.

"The person in the street is facing long delays. Their interests may not be best served because the lawyers acting in their interest are not sufficiently trained and the risk of miscarriage of justice significantly rises," he said.

The report leaked by Shadow Attorney General Mark McArdle last month recommended the ODPP could recruit an extra 49 Crown Prosecutors over the next three three years with that funding.

However the report was never adopted by the State Government, though a final report has now been given to the Department of Justice and Attorney General.

A spokesman for Mr Shine today said the extra $3.5 million would allow the ODPP to employ four new prosecutors and four new legal officers during 2008-09.

However Mr McArdle said the funds were not a meaningful response to what he described as Queensland’s "justice crisis".

"By its own assessment the ODPP is in crisis and recommended a funding boost of $5.9 million per year for the next three years to better represent the interests of victims of crime – and the broader community – in Queensland courts," Mr McArdle said.

The Shadow Attorney General said the funds in yesterday’s Budget were simply not adequate.

However Mr Shine said he had asked for the report to be prepared by the former director of the Office of Public Prosecution, now Judge Lane Clare.

"I asked her office to prepare a comprehensive report on those issues for my consideration, because the efficient operation of the criminal justice system is so fundamental to our system of democratic government," Mr Shine said.

"That report made a number of suggestions as to areas where improvements could be made or where alternative systems may help to improve the operation of the system."

Mr Shine said the report was part of an overall review of Queensland’s justice system.

"One such matter relates to the jurisdiction of the various courts for criminal offences," he told State Parliament.

"At present, certain matters can be dealt with in the Supreme Court or in the District Court," he said.

"Often it is at the election of the defendant in which court the matter is dealt with. My department is looking at ways in which at times those matters, particularly pleas of guilty, may be able to be dealt with in the Magistrates Court, thus reducing pressure on the DAB."

He said the Queensland Law Society and the Queensland Bar Association were also being consulted.

Mr Shine also disagreed that it was fair to judged Queensland’s prosecutors salaries on those in New South Wales.

"For example, the types of matters that the New South Wales DAB dealt with are only the most complex 40 per cent of matters that Queensland’s DAB deals with," he said.

"The other 60 per cent of matters dealt with in Queensland are committal in the Magistrates Court and minor charges that are no longer dealt with in the higher courts of New South Wales. The point is that a straight comparison of numbers is, in fact, misleading.

"We are not necessarily comparing apples with apples."