The NSW Attorney General, Gabrielle Upton, has announced significant reform in the way in which some serious offences are dealt with before the Courts in NSW.
The Criminal Procedure Amendment (Summary Proceedings for Indictable Offences) Bill 2016 has been introduced to allow for some serious offences to be dealt with in the Local Court. It makes changes to four offences, when committed in the following circumstances:
- Breaking and entering or breaking out of a dwelling-house
- Committing or having intended to commit stealing or malicious damage
- Being in company with one or more persons, and
- Where the value of any property (the property stolen or damaged) is less than $60,000
These offences were previously dealt with in the District Court and carried maximum penalties of between 14 – 20 years imprisonment. They will now only carry a maximum penalty of 2 years imprisonment, being the jurisdictional maximum in the Local Court.
However the reform has been welcomed by the legal profession, as it will significantly reduce delays for accused’s persons, especially those who have been remanded in gaol awaiting their day in court. Delays in the District Court can range from 12 months to up to two years and, even then, there is no guarantee that an accused’s trial will proceed. Whilst it does reduce the available maximum penalty, such offences can often be dealt with by not imposing a full time custodial sentence, even in the District Court.
The purpose of the new law is to reduce delays in the District Court and streamline the process for some offences where possible. It comes at the same time that the Attorney General announced the appointment of five new District Court judges.
There have been calls for similar changes to the way in which drug supply charges are dealt with. As it currently stands, if a particular drug is over a certain weight, a charge of supplying that drug has to be dealt with in the District Court. This can be where the amount is only slightly over what is called the indictable quantity, which can result in significant delays for accused persons. However, based on the recent reforms introduced, it wouldn’t appear that we can expect any further amendments anytime soon.