Victoria’s Magistrates Court Works To Overcome Pandemic-Induced Backlogs

The COVID-19 pandemic left the Victorian justice system grappling with substantial backlogs, significantly impacting the Magistrates Court.

Responsible for handling a wide range of legal matters, from traffic fines to murder cases, the court faced a staggering backlog of 142,000 cases in December 2020—double the pre-pandemic levels.

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Victoria’s Chief Magistrate, Lisa Hannan, is focusing on streamlining the court system, particularly in cases involving domestic violence victims. 

Over the past three years, concerted efforts, fueled by a $41 million cash injection from the state government, have been made to reduce the backlog. 

In November 2023, the pending caseload decreased to around 68,000 cases, returning to pre-pandemic levels.

Justice Hannan attributes this progress to strategic initiatives, including the establishment of a specialised service centre allowing individuals to pre-arrange interpreter services and Legal Aid representation before court hearings. 

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Despite occasional glitches, the widespread adoption of online court hearings has proven instrumental in addressing the backlog.

Acknowledging the remaining challenges, Tim Schocker, co-chair of the Law Institute of Victoria’s criminal law section, notes that the case backlog has decreased.

The Magistrates Court’s latest annual report reflects progress, with a 21 per cent increase in criminal cases finalised in 2022-2023, amounting to 160,959 cases. 

Notably, there was a 53 per cent reduction in cases lasting more than 12 months. However, the court falls short of achieving its goal of concluding 85 per cent of criminal cases within six months, with the figure at 55 per cent by the end of the last financial year.

Despite challenges, the court remains committed to enhancing efficiency and ensuring timely resolutions for those seeking justice.

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