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Cut-price DPP yielding nation’s lowest conviction rates: report

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South Australia’s public prosecutors are funded considerably less than interstate counterparts, resulting in them delivering the nation’s lowest conviction rates, highest withdraw rates and longer-than-average case durations, an independent review has found.

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A report into the Office of the Director of Public Prosecutions paints a concerning picture of an agency blighted by caseloads and funding shortfalls, InDaily can reveal.

But Attorney-General John Rau has ruled out any significant new injection of funds in next week’s state budget, saying it’s “way too early to be thinking about anything like that”.

The review by consultancy firm Partners in Performance International praised the office as “energised, hard-working and widely respected”, providing “a high quality of legal work to the benefit of the community”.

However, it continued, “when compared to other Australian states, the [office] provides its services at significantly lower cost than peers, resulting in a correspondingly significantly higher caseload per prosecutor”.

The report shows SA had, by some margin, the lowest average annual funding per case in the country, and the second highest caseload per prosecutor, behind Queensland.

caseloads

“This resourcing disparity appears to have some adverse impacts,” the review determined.

“With less time and money available per case, the benchmarking showed SA has the lowest conviction rates, highest withdraw rates, and longer than average case durations.”

With no immediate plan for a funding increase, and amid an ongoing review of the state’s justice system more broadly, the report recommends a shake-up in the office’s administration to streamline processes, arguing there is “significant opportunity to optimise the organisational structure”.

It says existing processes leave “substantial room for improvement in avoiding duplication and manual effort, improving standardisation, improving process interfaces with other agencies and the adoption of a ‘right first time’ philosophy to processing cases”.

It also notes the office is “still largely paper-based”, which produces “associated errors, inefficiencies and other costs of document handling, providing a burden to resources”.

It said “perhaps the largest opportunity for improvement lies in the digitisation and automation of forms and activities”, but noted that process was already in train, with the Government having committed $2 million for a new prosecution case management system.

However, it concluded, even if every change recommended was implemented successfully, the office would still need an additional seven full-time staff, including two additional prosecutors.

DPP Adam Kimber told InDaily he welcomed the review, which was instituted by the Attorney-General’s office at his instigation, as it suggested the office was “on the right track” with some of the reforms it was already pursuing, while providing “some concrete and independent information about whether our funding is appropriate or not”.

“The report clearly states if all the changes were made and were subsequently successful, even in that instance there’d be a funding shortfall,” he said.

“The review is very, very clear.”

However, he said next week’s state budget was a separate matter, and any funding increase emanating from the review would be a matter for subsequent deliberations.

Sparse DPP funding has been a matter of contention between the office and the Labor Government since it took office in 2002, reaching a flashpoint with the appointment of Kimber’s predecessor Stephen Pallaras in 2005.

Asked if he was frustrated by the continuing impasse, Kimber replied: “I’m not sure ‘frustration’ is the word I’d use.”

“Like all agencies, it’s a constant conversation about working in an ever-changing environment,” he said.

“We’re working in an environment that’s becoming more and more complex [and] it’s something that always has to be the subject of a mature conversation. But that’s not always able to be conducted based on real evidence, and here we’ve got an independent review specifically tasked to look at a sustainable funding model.

“This is simply the sort of conversation all agencies like mine have to have with Government.”

Feedback to the review from unidentified DPP staff suggested a desire for additional support staff, so that “legal staff would spend less time photocopying, punching holes in briefs, indexing briefs and could spend more time on the legal work”.

Rau told InDaily while the comparison with other states was “not necessarily like for like”, it was clear the DPP’s resources were “a little bit thin”.

“There’s some talk about how things can be improved in that regard, and we’re looking at helping them from an external point of view, in terms of improving the automatic management system and with criminal justice reform through [changes to the committal process for] major indictable offences,” he said.

Parliament June 8th-2274

Attorney-General John Rau. Photo: Nat Rogers, InDaily.

He said he hoped to complete his broader review by year’s end, adding it was now “in a drafting phase, put it that way”.

But he insisted it was “way, way too early to be thinking about anything like” additional funding.

“The report has only just been provided to staff… we’re nowhere near that point,” he said.

He warned there was always a danger in merely “throwing more money at [a] system that’s not working as well as it should”.

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