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Cash for courts: new judge and courtrooms among $40m justice spend

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UPDATED | The election-bound Weatherill Government is seeking to head off an ongoing row about the state of Adelaide’s courts infrastructure with a $31 million budget sweetener that will add two new criminal courtrooms to the existing Sir Samuel Way Building.

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After pleas for more courts spending fell on deaf ears last year, Treasurer Tom Koutsantonis is today committing to a stop-gap measure for the judiciary’s woes, with Labor’s pre-election budget set to use the state’s purse strings to tie up several loose political threads.

InDaily will have full State Budget details in a special edition after 3pm today.

But the solution means the judiciary will remain in their current digs in the “medium term” – at least a decade – despite ongoing complaints about “a multitude of problems”, including outdated IT infrastructure and concrete cancer in the facades.

The budget will also include an extra $780,000 a year to bolster the judiciary, separating the current roles of Justice Greg Parker – who divides his time between the Supreme Court and the presidency of the South Australian Civil and Administrative Tribunal – into two full-time positions.

It’s understood Parker is expected to work as a Supreme Court Judge fulltime, leaving a vacancy at the helm of SACAT.

The long-demanded investment in the courts precinct comes two years after the Government abandoned plans for a promised $500 million new courts hub, with Attorney-General John Rau since seeking to address judicial delays through law reform, including the recently-passed major indictable offences bill, which seeks to streamline processes.

Rau told InDaily today the “most acute difficulty” still facing the existing facilities “is in the physical criminal courts… and this [spending] directly addresses that problem”.

“This will mean the medium-term requirement for additional infrastructure is accommodated – for the next decade or so – and that will give us time to come up with a solution for the longer term,” he said.

Rau said the solution has “never been to just appoint more judges”, but required a more holistic review of the legal system, including courts procedures and case management.

“But we do have occasions now where there’s a lack of suitable criminal courts, even if there’s a judge available – that’s not acceptable,” he said.

“They do have a facility shortage… they could do with another couple of usable criminal courts.”

The $31 million will see the top floor of the Sir Samuel Way Building renovated, with the existing civil courts there moved across the road to an upgraded old Supreme Court building, replacing courtrooms that are currently mothballed.

This will create two new criminal courtrooms in the Samuel Way.

“At any one time we can have two additional judges sitting on criminal matters in any one week,” Rau said.

He said the original plan for a new courts precinct built as a public-private partnership “ultimately floundered on accounting blocks… and was grossly expensive anyway”.

The new redevelopment is scheduled for completion by the end of 2018-19, with the Government claiming the construction phase would create “up to 60 jobs”.

The budget also contains an extra $6.1 million over four years to transfer further responsibilities to SACAT to facilitate “easier dispute resolution”, which Rau argues will ease the burden on the courts.

The Government is also addressing recent funding gripes by state coroner Mark Johns, who claimed several major inquests had either stalled or collapsed because of chronic underfunding to his office.

The budget allows for the temporary appointment of an additional Deputy Coroner, to assist in “complex inquests”.

Koutsantonis said in a statement the investment package “is about increasing the capacity of our criminal justice system so that cases can be heard more quickly”.

“Improving the efficiency of our courts will reduce wait times for victims of crime,” he said.

Chief Justice Chris Kourakis welcomed the new funding “which will assist with the delivery of justice to the community of SA”, but Opposition spokeswoman Vickie Chapman said it was like “putting new carpet in the Colosseum and expecting the Christians to be grateful”.

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