WA's top judge has hit out at a State Government decision not to fill a vacancy on the Supreme Court bench, warning delays in the State's highest court will blow out and the standard of service will fall.
Attorney-General Michael Mischin revealed yesterday that he had considered the Supreme Court's workload and decided there was no need for a permanent appointment to the Supreme Court after the retirement of Justice Narelle Johnson last year.
WA Chief Justice Wayne Martin said the Supreme Court was already listing criminal matters well into the middle of next year and had reached a point where some civil cases could not be provided with a trial date in the foreseeable future.
"As a result of this decision, it is inevitable there will be a continuing reduction in the standard of service provided by the Supreme Court to the people of WA," the Chief Justice said.
Justice Martin acknowledged it was up to the Government to determine the resources made available to courts but said Mr Mischin's decision would reduce the number of judges in the Supreme Court jurisdiction to levels that applied 10 years ago.
"The court has seen a significant increase in the volume and complexity of its commercial work over that period and a substantial increase in its criminal jurisdiction," he said.
The decision, which will save an estimated $4.4 million over four years, comes amid a surge in homicide cases in WA.
Describing the decision as extremely disappointing, Law Society of WA president Craig Slater said there had been no consultation with the legal group and it was clear the Supreme Court would be put in a more difficult position.
"The society is concerned the decision will increase the current delays on trials," he said.
"For those accused of serious crimes it will delay the date on which they have an opportunity to have the charges proven or dismissed."
Mr Mischin said it was not clear whether the surge in homicide cases was a short or long-term trend but he had acknowledged the immediate resource need to deal with the increase in murder and manslaughter cases and offered a proposal to the Chief Justice.
Statistics show civil lodgements had dropped last financial year and Mr Mischin said while he did not expect there would be an effect on time to trial, he would consider additional resources if there was a blowout in delays and the backlog of cases.